Photo: Joan Marcus
The production of West Side Story currently playing at The Palace is a mixed bag at best. The concept of having some of the characters speak Spanish some of the time is excellent in theory, but distancing and distracting in practice. (When Light in the Piazza used Italian, it was more or less clear what the people were saying; here, even though I know West Side Story fairly well, it was not.) The casting of Matt Cavenaugh is an astonishing miscalculation; he is wrong for the part in looks, acting chops, and voice (he sounds like he's still playing a Kennedy, as he did in Gray Gardens). When he sings Maria, he seems unaware that Tony is bursting with love and joy. Josefina Scaglione as Maria is much better, but her performance is too small to carry to row T in the orchestra (I can't imagine what people in the sky-high Palace balcony think of her). Director Arthur Laurents' odd choices and sluggish pacing give the audience plenty of time to ponder just how flimsy the storyline is. Boy meets girl, boy kisses girl, boy woos girl, boy kills girl's brother, girl sleeps with boy anyway, boy dies. This supposedly major romance is little more than about a day and a half of hormones, and I don't believe that Anita would agree with Maria that "when love comes so strong, there is no right or wrong"--her boyfriend was just murdered after all. So, what does this West Side Story have going for it? The amazing score, of course, and the choreography, which remains fresh, evocative, and astonishingly beautiful over 50 years after its creation. In clips I've seen on TV, the original dancers come across as more perfectly in sync, but even without Jerome Robbins to abuse them to perfection, the current dancers are still quite good. The scenery (James Youmans) and lighting (Howell Binkley) are beautiful. And Karen Olivo, in her Tony Award-winning turn as Anita, brings energy, charisma, and sheer talent to the show. One final complaint: The sound was uneven, with much of the orchestra coming across indistinct and electronic. Also, remember when you used to be able to tell who was speaking? Well, maybe you don't--you may well be too young.