Theater review: 'West Side Story' a beautiful, thrilling evening of musical theater

Published: Thursday, April 18 2013 4:55 p.m. MDT

The touring production of "West Side Story."

© Carol Rosegg 2012

“WEST SIDE STORY,” Broadway Across America, Capitol Theatre, through April 21, $62.50-$32.50, 801-323-6800 or arttix.org

The Jets and the Sharks are at it again.

The national tour of “West Side Story” is not without flaws, but it is still a beautiful, thrilling evening of theater.

When the original production opened in 1957, wining six Tony Awards, it changed the course of American musical theater through its innovative music and choreography, and the art form was elevated to new heights of seriousness. With direction and choreography by Jerome Robbins, music by Leonard Bernstein, lyrics by a young Stephen Sondheim, libretto by Arthur Laurents — based on Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” — and produced by Hal Prince, “West Side Story” has been declared one of the greatest American musicals. And a paradigm was set for all great musicals to follow.

This production was born out of the 2009 Broadway staging, which enjoyed more performances than the original and the other two Broadway revivals. Matt Cavenaugh and Josefina Scaglione were nothing short of sensational as the doomed lovers Tony and Maria. But of course, stars don’t tour.

Addison Reid Coe plays the role of Tony convincingly enough but lacks the necessary vocal range, struggling to reach the soaring notes he needs to hit in “Something’s Coming” and “Maria.” MaryJoanna Grisso is enchanting as Maria, bringing to life the innocence and delight of a first romance, and she sings with a beautiful soprano tone.

Michelle Alves is the standout in the cast as a potent Anita, dancing and singing with a fiery sense of purpose, and is particularly strong in “A Boy Like That.”

It’s in the big song-and-dance scenes that this production really takes off. The ensemble dancers proved to be masters of Robbins’ choreography, at once elegant and spontaneous in their leaps and kicks.

The spectacular dancing by the Sharks in “America” alone was worth the admission price. But there’s also “Cool,” with Theo Lencick as Riff teaching the Jets how to behave. His counterpart with the Sharks, Andres Acosta as Bernardo, is also a compelling stage presence. And there’s also the sensational “Dance at the Gym” sequence by the full cast, where Tony and Maria first meet. The dancing is crisp and hyper-athletic, just as Robbins had intended.

A unique element of the 2009 staging that Laurents directed was the addition of Spanish dialog and lyrics, with “I Feel Pretty” and “One Hand, One Heart” sung in both languages. Lin-Manuel Miranda, a Tony winner for “In the Heights,” was brought in to translate the text, with Sondheim’s approval. The concept was initially embraced, but the amount of Spanish language was gradually reduced, and the touring version has found a nice balance.

Content advisory: Some sensual dancing with a brief, simulated rape and a few profanities, nearly all in Spanish.

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