Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Review: West Side Story

Sumptuous Storytelling and Love at First Sight

By Lauren Yarger
I just met a girl named Maria and it was love at first sight and suddenly that name will never be the same for me—really.

She’s Josefina Scaglione, the charming actress from Argentina starring at Maria in the fabulous new revival of West Side Story on Broadway. She looks and sings like an angel and puts to rest an inability to buy into the “love-at-first-sight” plot device (among other less-than-believable things we’re asked to believe) to make this classic work.

If you don’t know the plot, it’s an update of the classic Romeo and Juliet story. Maria and Tony (Matt Cavanaugh), from two opposing families (in this case gangs and races) fall in love at first sight. There is a fight between the two rival gangs and Tony of the Jets kills Maria’s brother Bernardo (George Akram), leader of the Sharks. The couple plans to go away together, but are thwarted through miscommunication and Tony is killed.

Under the direction of Arthur Laurents, who wrote the original book, Scaglione personifies Maria in this updated version love and angst on New York’s West Side infused with the hauntingly beautiful music (Leonard Bernstein, score; Stephen Sondheim, lyrics) and original choreography by Jerome Robbins. While most of the story remains the same, one of the most notable updates involves incorporating Spanish dialogue. The Puerto Ricans converse with each other from time to time in their native language. Two songs, “I Feel Pretty” and “A Boy Like That” are sung entirely in Spanish.

Sumptuous sets designed by James Youmans paint a stark backdrop for the colorful costumes by David C. Woolard which combine ethnic purples, greens, oranges and swishing skirts with the oranges, browns, jeans and sneakers of street gangs. The underside of a bridge, the setting for the tragic gang rumble that seals the star-crossed lovers’ fate, especially impresses.

The choreography remains explosive and tight, guided by reproduction choreographer Joey McKneely, and expresses the lyrics of the songs in visual, yet subtle ways, so that we see and feel the emotions of the characters before we hear them expressed in the words. Young Nicholas Barasch leads off a moving rendition of “Somewhere,” a thoughtful ballet in which members of the rival gangs dance together in a place Tony and Maria dream might one day be real, where they can be together, some day.

Karen Olivo shines as Anita, the feisty girlfriend of Bernardo. Akram and Cody Green, who plays Riff, leader of the Jets, deliver solid performances. Cavanaugh, however, seems unsure of himself, singing in a thin high tenor with lots of vibrato which seems miscast for the oomph desired for classics like “Maria” and “Tonight.”

The large supporting cast and stage full of dancers is supported by an orchestra split between the pit and located in boxes above either side of the stage.

Overall, it’s a sumptuous production, with the kind of singing and dancing that make Broadway Broadway. And then of course, there’s beautiful Maria. Her rendition of “I Have a Love” will give you goose bumps.

West Side Story is at the Palace Theatre, 1564 Broadway, New York. For tickets, call (212) 307-4100/(800) 755-4000 or visit http://www.broadwaywestsidestory.com/.

Christians might also like to know:
• Lord’s name taken in vain
• Attempted rape
• Sex outside of marriage (although they perform their own ceremony…)
• One of the characters cross dresses
• Suggestive dancing

No comments:


Create A Buzz About Your Book
Custom Search
Our reviews are professional reviews written without a religious bias. At the end of them, you can find a listing of language, content or theological issues that Christians might want to know about when deciding which shows to see.

** Mature indicates that the show has posted an advisory because of content. Usually this means I would recommend no one under the age of 16 attend.

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

My Bio

Lauren Yarger has written, directed and produced numerous shows and special events for both secular and Christian audiences. She co-wrote a Christian musical version of “A Christmas Carol” which played to sold-out audiences of over 3,000 in Vermont and was awarded the Vermont Bessie (theater and film awards) for “People’s Choice for Theatre.” She also has written two other dinner theaters, sketches for church services and devotions for Christian artists. Her play "From Reel to Real: The Jennifer O'Neill Story" was presented as part of the League of professional Theatre Women's Julia's reading Room Series in New York in February 2018.

Yarger trained for three years in the Broadway League’s Producer Development Program, completed the Commercial Theater Institute's Producing Three-Day Training and produced a one-woman musical about Mary Magdalene that toured nationally and closed with an off-Broadway run.

She was a Fellow at the National Critics Institute at the O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT. She writes reviews of Broadway and off-Broadway theater (the only ones you can find in the US with an added Christian perspective) at http://reflectionsinthelight.blogspot.com/.

She is editor of The Connecticut Arts Connection (http://ctarts.blogspot.com), an award-winning website featuring theater and arts news for the state. She is a contributing editor for BroadwayWorld.com. She previously served as theater reviewer for the Manchester Journal-Inquirer, Connecticut theater editor for CurtainUp.com and as Connecticut and New York reviewer for American Theater Web.

She is a Co-Founder of the Connecticut Chapter of the League of Professional Theatre Women.

Yarger is a book reviewer for Publishers Weekly and freelances for other sites. She is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.

She is a freelance writer and playwright and member of The Drama Desk, The Outer Critics Circle, The American Theater Critics Association and The League of Professional Theatre Women. She served as a judge for the SDX Awards presented by the Society of Professional Journalists. She also is a member of the Connecticut Critics Circle. and the Episcopal Actors' Guild.

A former newspaper editor and graduate of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, Yarger also worked in arts management for the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, the Hartford Symphony Orchestra and served for nine years as the Executive Director of Masterwork Productions, Inc. She lives with her husband in West Granby, CT. They have two adult children.


All material is copyright 2008- 2018 by Lauren Yarger. Reviews and articles may not be reprinted without permission. Contact reflectionsinthelight@gmail.com


Key to Content Notes:

God's name taken in vain -- means God or Jesus is used in dialogue without speaking directly to or about them.

Language -- means some curse words are used. "Minor" usually means the words are not too strong or that it only occurs once or twice throughout the show.

Strong Language -- means some of the more heavy duty curse words are used.

Nudity -- means a man or woman's backside, a man's lower front or a woman's front are revealed.

Scantily clad -- means actors' private areas are technically covered, but I can see a lot of them.

Sexual Language -- means the dialogue contains sexually explicit language but there's no action.

Sexual Activity -- means a man and woman are performing sexual acts.

Adultery -- Means a married man or woman is involved sexually with someone besides their spouse. If this is depicted with sexual acts on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Sex Outside of Marriage -- means a man and woman are involved sexually without being married. If this is depicted sexually on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Homosexuality -- means this is in the show, but not physically depicted.

Homosexual activity -- means two persons of the same sex are embracing/kissing. If they do more than that, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Cross Dresser -- Means someone is dressing as the opposite sex. If they do more than that on stage the listing would include the corresponding "sexual activity" and/or "homosexual activity" as well.

Cross Gender -- A man is playing a female part or a woman is playing a man's part.

Suggestive Dancing -- means dancing contains sexually suggestive moves.

Derogatory (category added Fall 2012) Language or circumstances where women are referred to or treated in a negative and demeaning manner.

Other content matters such as torture, suicide or rape will be noted, with details revealed only as necessary in the review itself.

The term "throughout" added to any of the above means it happens many times throughout the show.

Reviewing Policy

I receive free seats to Broadway and Off-Broadway shows made available to all voting members of the Outer Critics Circle and The Drama Desk, the two professional critics organizations with journalists covering NY theater. Journalistically, I provide an unbiased review and am under no obligation to make positive statements. Sometimes shows do not make tickets available to reviewers. If these are shows my readers want to know about (I review all Broadway shows and pertinent Off-Broadway shows), I will purchase a ticket. If a personal friend is involved in a production, I'll let you know, but it won't influence a review. If I feel there is a conflict, I won't review their portion of the production.

All Posts on this Blog