“West Side Story” – ASU Gammage

This review aired on KBAQ September 29, 2011


ASU Gammage
Tempe, AZ

The Jets and Sharks are again battling it out in original book author’s Arthur Laurents’ sharp 2009 revival of Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim’s masterpiece “West Side Story.”  The touring version of this recent Broadway success is playing through Sunday at ASU Gammage.

The Broadway production lacked the intensity, power, and throbbing drive of this superior road staging.  Laurents’ revival brought fresh ideas to this now 54-year-old musical that uses Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” as its inspiration.  Although Laurents died earlier this year, he was involved in the road tour that was re-created by David Saint.  In an effort to intensify the awful discrimination against the Puerto Rican Sharks by the rival Jets, Laurents had some original song lyrics replaced with Spanish.  It’s amazing that “West Side Story” was written originally in 1957 because the way minorities are treated in America remains consistently shoddy today.  Jerome Robbins pulsating original choreography has been lovingly reproduced by Joey McKneely and is executed with phenomenal precision by the superb touring cast.

Bernstein’s then new sounding score is still fresh and alive as it graphically comments on the struggle and differences between races.  “West Side Story” became famous as a result of the 1961 Academy-Award winning film which involved some of the Broadway creative team.  The new staging’s simple, stark sets reveal the poverty of these groups.

The use of Spanish in this production has been criticized but it works by not allowing audiences to forget the characters’ awful circumstances as the show’s beautiful score and exciting dancing entertain.  On top of the large ensemble’s brilliant dancing, the musical’s leads are, with only one exception, well portrayed.  Especially gritty is Kyle Harris’ sharply etched Tony, a person thrown into a terrible situation who sees the evils of the rivalries but can’t escape them.  Since he is responsible for three of the show’s biggest song hits, his singing is masterful.  Less successful is Ali Ewoldt’s Maria.  She acts with conviction and let’s us believe her love of Tony but her singing is less stirring than Harris’.  Alicia Charles’ lusty Anita, German Santiago’s gutsy Bernardo, and Joseph J. Simeone’s swaggeringly tough Riff add ethnic honesty to the production.

If you’ve never seen “West Side Story,” this production is a gift but even those familiar with it, will find this revival gives the show justice.  It continues through Sunday, October 2.  For tickets, call Ticketmaster at 800-982-2787 or order tickets online at www.asugammage.com.

Grade: B


One Response to ““West Side Story” – ASU Gammage”

  1. michael chasin said:

    Oct 03, 11 at 17:49

    I am very surprised at this review. I was one of 4 people who saw this show (not all sitting together and only comparing impressions by phone later) and felt that it was a very poor production. Tony did not have a great voice. The size discrepancy between Tony and Maria was very bothersome (he was constantly bending over). Maria’s voice was also not adequate for this type of production.
    I grew up in NYC and saw many shows there. I am not sure we saw the same show.