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West Side Story

Ali Ewoldt shines as Maria in the otherwise underwhelming national tour production of the beloved musical.

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Ali Ewoldt stars in West Side Story
Ali Ewoldt stars in West Side Story
After 50 years of near-constant international production from high schools to Broadway, West Side Story continues to attract audiences. Unfortunately, the show's new national tour, which is currently docked at the Orpheum Theatre under David Saint's direction (recreating Arthur Laurents' staging of the current Broadway incarnation), feels more like a cruise-ship diversion than a fully-realized production.

The core elements of the work -- a pulsating Leonard Bernstein score, smart Stephen Sondheim lyrics, exuberant Jerome Robbins choreography -- are still there, but they've been entrusted to less skillful hands than the piece deserves.

The production's problems are clear from the opening sequence -- which must set the tone for the musical -- as we're introduced to warring street gangs, The Jets and The Sharks. This one is more Glee than grim. The Robbins steps are all still there, but there's no tension or menace in them. It's all very pleasant.

Pleasant also applies to Kyle Harris as a likable Tony, who is all open heart and clearly not the sharpest gear in the gang. He is utterly engaging until he starts to sing classics like "Something's Coming" or "Maria"; he cannot seem to connect with rhythm or pitch on any consistent basis.

As Maria, Ali Ewoldt proves to be the smartest person on stage. The actress, who sings beautifully, has a radiant freshness leavened with an inherent wisdom about the world around her. Michelle Aravena, however, disappoints as her cousin Anita. While trying to avoid spitfire clichés, she seems to have missed the fire completely.

With two notable exceptions -- Alexandra Frohlinger, who mines every possible facet of the androgynous Anybodys, and Stephen deRosa, who makes an extraordinarily memorable impact in the throw-away role of Glad Hand -- the rest of the cast delivers lines, sings songs, and executes steps in an acceptable fashion, but without obvious zest or passion.

Still, there's pleasure to be found in a couple of production numbers: "Gee, Officer Krupke" proves to be the highlight of the evening, far outshining such historically assured show-stoppers as "America" and "Cool." Things also liven up a bit during "The Dance at the Gym," but John O'Neill's orchestra seems determined to undermine the moment.

Sadly, "Somewhere" opens to a beautifully realized stage picture and then bogs down in a ballet that feels torturously long, and the much-discussed experiment of using sequences of Spanish dialogue and lyrics adds nothing to the experience of the show.


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