Skip to main content Skip to footer site map

BWW Reviews: WEST SIDE STORY Soars @ the Pantages


West Side Story
book by Arthur Laurents
music by Leonard Bernstein; lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
directed by David Saint (based on Arthur Laurents' Broadway direction)
choreographed by Joey McKneely
Pantages Theatre
through January 2, 2011

Ask musical actors/actresses for their choice of favorite Broadway musical of all time and they most often concur, West Side Story. Why? It has phenomenal music by Leonard Bernstein, with concise poetic lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and a tight and gripping book by Arthur Laurents, who directed two years ago, and brilliant choreography established in 1957 by Jerome Robbins. It is one of the most powerful love stories ever, next to Romeo and Juliet. With all these elements complementing one another, from the first downbeat of the orchestra and the appearance of the Jets creeping in one by one on a half-lit stage, the show pulls you in and doesn't let you go for its two and a half hours ... and its message of and images of love linger long after.

Arthur Laurents' newest revival (2009) is certainly more realistic than others. First, the score is sung with some lyrics in English and some in Spanish. Also, more Spanish is spoken within the dialogue of the scenes. Sondheim gave his approval for this to draw contemporary Hispanic audiences to the show, and it makes sense, for Puerto Ricans arriving in the US still spoke Spanish. Also, the ending of the revival is less theatrical, as the opposing gangs do not carry Tony's body off. It would never be allowed in a modern CSI (Crime Scene Investigation). Without that overpowering piece of staging to conclude, it is left solely to the power of Maria's riveting speech against violence to encourage hope for any possible reconciliation between the warring gangs. Real but still potent!

The touring cast at the Pantages is remarkable. It is such a joy to see such young triple threats throughout the ensemble, in which there are no weak links. Ali Ewoldt and Kyle Harris as Maria and Tony set the stage on fire with their passionate love. Both are dynamite actors/singers. Michelle Aravena makes Anita earthy, feisty, and humane, causing one to forget the legends that have come before her. Joseph Simeone is electric as Riff, and German Santiago macho and seething as Bernardo. Drew Foster as Action, Alexandra Frohlinger as Anybodys, Jay Garcia as Chino and the other Sharks and Jets are incredible, as are the adults: John O'Creagh as Doc, Christopher Patrick Mullen as Lt. Schrank, and Mike Boland as Krupke.

Choreography by Joey McKneely, especially the dance mix in the gymnasium, is superlative. James Youmans' dark scenic design is riveting, particularly the fenced off area underneath the highway that sets the scene for the rumble at Act I's finale. This entire show is Class A Number One. It is a perfect representation for both fans of the stage version and for those first-timers, familiar only with the ten time Academy Award-winning 1961 film. Don't miss it!


Related Articles View More Los Angeles Stories

Buy at the Theatre Shop

T-Shirts, Mugs, Phone Cases & More

From This Author Don Grigware