Wednesday, November 17, 2010

I recently took my youngest daughter to dinner and the current touring production of West Side Story. WSS is one of my favorite musicals of all time. Maybe even my most favorite. It did not disappoint. Neil Haskell from So You Think You Can Dance was in the Jets chorus as Snowboy.
Yum. I love the music, the choreography has become iconic and this production was timeless. When the Puerto Ricans spoke among themselves it was sometimes in Spanish as well as some of the songs. The set design was amazing. I loved the rumble drop of the underside of the freeway bridge.

The opening dance number was incredible. I have posted before about my love of male dancers and when the testosterone is flowing and the boys are dancing, I'm very happy.

Dinner was at Zarzuela, a Spanish restaurant in Russian Hill and the food was amazing. Highly recommended.

Here's the Chronicle review of the show.

West Side Story: Musical. Book by Arthur Laurents. Music by Leonard Bernstein. Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. Directed by Laurents. Through Nov. 28. Orpheum Theatre, 1192 Market St., San Francisco. Two hours, 30 minutes. $30-$99. (888) 746-1799.

The dancers are hot. Jerome Robbins' paradigm-shifting choreography explodes from the stage with the fresh, feral energy - if not the raw surprise - it had in 1957. The moment when Tony meets Maria at the dance is positively electric. The stagings bring out the Shakespearean resonances of the story more clearly than ever.

Which is as it should be. The national tour of "West Side Story" that opened Wednesday at the Orpheum Theatre - in the SHN Best of Broadway series - is the recent Broadway revival directed by Arthur Laurents, the 92-year-old theater legend who wrote it. Or maybe it's a reasonable facsimile of that production. Laurents' stagings have been re-created for the tour by David Saint, just as Robbins' choreography has been reproduced by Joey McKneely.

The legacies of the other two legends who created the classic modern musical version of "Romeo and Juliet" - Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim, in his professional debut - don't fare quite so well. Bernstein's score, one of the musical theater's finest, sounds bold and tunefully inventive for sure, but its tonal and melodic complexities demand a larger orchestra than the one conducted here by John O'Neill.

It wasn't written for amplification, either, which was another periodic problem at Wednesday's opening. The now common practice of opening touring shows with few or no tune-up previews in a new space backfired badly.

Though the tour began only a month ago (in Detroit), it had no previews at the Orpheum. Sound levels were still being adjusted during Wednesday's show. Kyle Harris' Tony and O'Neill seemed unable to find the same tempo in his first big solo, "Something's Coming." Light cues were missed and ominous crashes were heard in the wings when Juliet's balcony - er, Maria's fire escape - was being rolled out.

That said, the balcony scene is a highlight of this production. Harris and Ali Ewoldt's Maria play off each other's youthful enthusiasm and unexpected joy beautifully. If he doesn't have quite the vocal range for Tony, he sings capably enough. Ewoldt's vibrant soprano carries their duets and most of her solos, though she doesn't own the stage enough on "I Have a Love."

A buoyantly tuneful and dynamic Michelle Aravena steals the show as Anita (as usual). She brings down the house (with a fetching Déa Julien) on the sardonic "America" and erupts with searing passion on "A Boy Like That."

Unfortunately much of that showdown with Maria is sung in Spanish (translated by Lin-Manuel Miranda), as is the delightful "I Feel Pretty." Laurents' decision to have the Puerto Ricans speak many of their lines in Spanish adds depth and immediacy to the themes of turf conflict and racism, but in the songs it distances us from some of Sondheim's most acute lyrics.

None of that matters, though, when Joseph J. Simeone's tough Riff and the Jets or German Santiago's forceful Bernardo and the Sharks fill the open expanses of James Youmans' grittily decorous set with explosions of dangerous, antsy, combative or joyful dance. Or when Anita and her crew sweep the boys away with their mambo-flaring skirts.

The opening numbers fill the house with finger-snapping expectation. "Cool," "The Rumble" and the "Somewhere" ballet more than deliver on that promise. The fatal harassment of Anita has seldom seemed so damning. In its best moments, this is a pretty vital "West Side Story."

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