WEST SIDE STORY presented by Broadway in Cincinnati through March 11. You can read the show description here.
Note: This is the first touring production of the recent Broadway revival. Changes include: bi-lingual dialogue as some of the lines and lyrics have been changed to Spanish. The tone has been shifted a bit darker, as gang members are no longer “lovable thugs.” And the choreography has been updated, as explained by choreographer Joey McKneely, in a recent interview:
“What happened with the choreography, and with WEST SIDE in general, is that it had become a museum piece. It became stuck in a time warp, and it started to feel dated. And the material is not dated. The subject matter is not dated. The social content speaks so vibrantly to today’s audiences. But the choreography was missing a youthful zest, it was missing passion. [Director] Arthur [Laurents] wanted to break free of that museum quality. And he felt, as did many people, that the show needed to be updated in terms of its appeal to an audience. That included making the choreography look edgier, harder. He wanted to get rid of the musical comedy aspects of the choreography, and take it to a more reality-based place. It was difficult, because it’s not my work, and I wanted to be true to the integrity of the choreography. But if my director wants something changed, I have to try to acquiesce to his needs. I kind of walked a tightrope. But in the end, I think the adjustments that were made to the choreography really were the right things to do for Arthur’s vision.” –courtesy of Broadway in Cincinnati.
Broadway in Cincinnati brings a strong production of WEST SIDE STORY to the Aronoff.
Changes to the choreography are evident immediately in the opening Prologue. The dancing is more athletic and contemporary, yet choreographer Joey McKneely has done an excellent job of keeping the feel and look of the original. The number “Gee, Officer Krupke” is the most visibly updated number with its more contemporary “body movements.” Solid dance execution by the entire cast.
A personal favorite for me in this cast is triple-threat Michelle Aravena as Anita. She has a engaging presence on stage and is equally strong in the musical numbers as well as her scene work, especially near the end of Act II.
Ross Lekites has a great voice for Tony, but on opening night his mic needed to be bumped up a notch or two. During the “Tonight” quintet, I couldn’t find his voice at all when all five parts were singing. Lekites does a good job with Tony, but I don’t see the hints at the Tony who co-formed and ran with the Jets. He comes off a bit too much like the boy next door. Even reformed bad boys are still a little bad.
Evy Ortiz packs a powerful voice in a petite package. Her vocals sounded great and it was nice to see Maria played with an inner strength of a young woman as opposed to a naive girl.
The various set pieces work well throughout the show. My favorite being the fly for the rumble scene. It is very impressive to see the overpass lower into place and it looks great.
Overall, I think most of the updates work well. WEST SIDE STORY is an enjoyable revival that should please all but the most hardcore of purists.
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