Oscar E Moore

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Mambo Mia! West Side Story Revival sizzles

March 26th, 2009 by Oscar E Moore

Karen Olivo, George Akram and company

Karen Olivo, George Akram and company

No matter what is said about ninety one year old Arthur Laurents, who has just directed his bi-lingual, revitalized revival of the classic musical West Side Story holding forth at the Palace Theater – and plenty of people have some pretty vile things to say – he must be admired for his courage, tenacity, talent and getting the job done.

Whether or not you agree with all his changes of the revered show for which he wrote the book which originally opened in 1957 does not matter.  He has brought an exciting and enjoyable West Side Story to vivid life for a new generation of theatergoers.  Does that not count for anything?

The gorgeous and phenomenal music of Leonard Bernstein, being played full out by an orchestra in the pit and in the boxes on either side of the stage.  The lyrics of a young Stephen Sondheim – with new Spanish translations by Lin-Manuel Miranda of “In The Heights” fame (just look how many Latinos he’s brought into the theatrical fold).  The ground breaking choreography of Jerome Robbins (another genius that many people were not fond of, to put it mildly) which has been keenly reproduced by Joey McKneely.  All is on stage to be seen and admired anew by the sold out audiences that should keep the Palace packed for quite a while.

The Jets and the infringing-on-their-territory Sharks are explosive in song and dance.  A great athletic cast of excellent dancer/singers has been assembled.  They are exceptional, especially in “Dance at the Gym”.  I defy anyone to find fault with any one of them.  Riff (Cody Green) turns in an impressive and electrifying performance as the best friend of Tony (Matt Cavenaugh) who falls madly and tragically in love with Maria.  One of my only regrets is that Matt’s voice, although as beautiful as his body (we know immediately why Maria is hot for him) is not as strong and soaring as I had hoped.

Maria, a beautiful, young, passionate and tough Josefina Scaglione is charming, especially in her newly translated “I Feel Pretty” (Siento Hermosa).  The speaking of Spanish gives substance to all the Latino characters and works most of the time.  It’s only when they go back and forth between languages for some phrases that need to be said in English that it’s a bit awkward.  In any event many new theatergoers will find this truly exciting.

As Anita, Karen Olivo all but steals the show.  She is someone who you cannot take your eyes off of – whether she is singing or swishing her skirts or throwing back her massive head of hair.  She takes the stage with a manic energy and delivers a Tony worthy performance.  Her boyfriend Bernardo (George Akram) is a hot-blooded stallion.

I was equally impressed with Greg Vinkler as Doc, Steve Bassett as the prejudiced Lt. Schrank and Michael Mastro as Glad Hand – all non-singing non-dancing roles.  Tro Shaw is a terrific Anybodys and Nicholas Barasch as Kiddo gets to sing a moving “Somewhere”.

There is nothing more exciting on Broadway right now than hearing the bi-lingual Quintet “Tonight” and then seeing the massive set for the rumble appear on stage for the incredible finale to Act I.  It’s a great evening of theatrical history being reinvented for a new and appreciative audience.  Highly recommended.

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