Thursday, October 28, 2010

"West Side Story": ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ BANG 1/2 baub

It's Romeo and Juliet set in New York City in 1957. Puerto Rican Maria falls in love with el gringo Tony. Their love can never be. Maria's brother Bernardo is the leader of the Sharks, a Puerto Rican street gang. Tony's best friend Riff is the leader of the Jets, an Irish-Italian street gang. There's a rumble. Bernardo kills Riff. Tony kills Bernardo. He and Maria try to run away but they only make it as far as the playground. Maria's jealous suitor Chino kills Tony. You see it coming but you get a huge thump anyway. Curtain falls.

Many have called Leonard Bernstein's "West Side Story" score the finest musical score in the history of musical theater and you wouldn't get an argument here. From the first jazzy strains of "Jet Song" to the heartbreaking ballads "Somewhere" and "One Hand, One Heart," and from the humor and social commentary of "America" and "Gee, Officer Krupke" to all the marvelous compositions behind the spectacular dance numbers, you feel, first of all, that you are in the company of a musical genius and, second, that this is also a really good yarn.

And let us not forget: lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. Book by Arthur Laurents. Choreography by Jerome Robbins. Only the finest names in half a century of Broadway.

Yes, there will be nattering nabobs and naysayers who will point out that Kyle Harris's Tony started out like Tim Lincecum in his first two innings of the World Series last night, held only a mile from the Orpheum Theater -- they both got battered around a bit. Kyle's Harris's last few notes on "Maria" were worrisome. But, like Timmy, Kyle recovered and finished the show with brilliance.

Ali Ewoldt as Maria? Well, put down your I-phone and run down to see this woman sing and dance. Ali Ewoldt IS Maria -- vulnerable, strong, beautiful, a voice like la voz de Dios and, by the way, bilingual. This is important because the 2010 production has been updated -- always dangerous when you're dealing with a classic.

They have made the decision to have the Sharks and other Latino characters speak to each other quite a bit in Spanish. Even some of the songs, sung by Latino characters, have been translated into Spanish. This may not bother you, mi amigo bilingual, but it bothered us a lot. Not in the dialogue -- it makes sense for Puerto Rican immigrants in 1957 to be speaking some Spanish to each other -- but the songs too? This reviewer, who is one of those who knows every note of the original score, cringed every time it happened.

But it's nothing you can't live with and we were talking about Ali Ewoldt -- she is worth the price of admission all by herself. There's a lot else to cheer about too: David Saint's direction, John O'Neill's musical direction and the brilliant sets and lighting by James Youmans and Howell Binkley make the smaller Orpheum stage come alive. Doc's drugstore, the playground and the rumble spot under the highway feel like they might have when the show premiered at the Winter Garden 53 years ago.

The women actors, especially, shine, We loved Michelle Aravena in the Rita Moreno role of Anita, all the women in "America" and, of course, Ali Ewoldt. The women bring home the yuca. We can't wait for another helping.

RATINGS: ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ BANG 1/2 baub

The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division awards "West Side Story" Four Stars with a BANGLE of PRAISE and half a bauble of despair. The songs translated into Spanish -- sorry, amigos. This is a no no. Did they sing The Star Spangled Banner half in Spanish at the ball game? No. Come on. Half a bauble for you.

But it's a beautiful show, even with the baubalito. A BANGLE of PRAISE for the sensual choreography, adapted by Joey McKneely for a smaller stage. West Side Story doesn't come along very often. Hearing and watching this show, you understand what the fuss has been about for all these years. Wear your orange if the Giants are still playing.

"West Side Story"
The Orpheum Theater
Market Street at Eighth and Hyde Streets, San Francisco
Through November 28

1 comment:

Unknown said...

I loved the lighting, the set and the dancing. I also liked the idea of Spanglish dialogue because it rendered it more authentic. And I agree that the songs should have been sung only in English. Don't mess with perfection. Please help me settle an argument. The last line in the show spoken by Maria with gun in her hand (the gun that killed Tony) in what language is it delivered? I have a bet riding on this.