Sunday, July 19, 2009

West Side Story

I always thought that I liked West Side Story, Leonard Bernstein's once-revolutionary retelling of Romeo and Juliet amongst the gangs of 1950s lower Manhattan. I relished the highly stylized film adaptation as a child, and understood how jarring the original stage production (which starred Chita Rivera, Carol Lawrence and the late Larry Kert--quite the team) was to Broadway audiences at the time. The new production at the Palace Theatre--directed by the original bookwriter, Arthur Laurents, with Joey McKneely recreating Jerome Robbins' landmark choreography--has a strong sterility to it, and I had the feeling that someone unfamiliar with the history of this musical would view this current staging and not understand why the show has become the classic that it is. Part of the reason has to do with some major pieces of miscasting--Matt Cavenaugh is far too old and vocally wrong for Tony, while Cody Green's Riff is about as threatening as a midwestern Sunday School teacher. Even Karen Olivo, who won the Tony Award for her performance as Anita, failed to convey her character's fiery spirit throughout the performance. Only Josefina Scaglione, an ideal Maria, found the perfect balance of beautiful singing and intense acting that this particular show requires. In her hands, the devastating final scene offered the only semblance of the kind of emotion that should permeate an entire production of this musical.

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