This is not the West Side Story you grew up with. Sure, all the familiar songs are present, and the Romeo and Juliet-themed storyline morphed into 1950’s New York City still exists. The Jets and the Sharks are still at it; rumbling over turf and girls, and two impetuous lovers eschew all that they hold dear to be together.
It is the passion that is missing from this West Side Story; the visceral emotions from characters who love hard, fight hard and dream hard.
First hitting the Broadway stage in 1958, West Side Story was a near instant success, being nominated for six Tony Awards in that year, and winning two. But when the musical was revived in 2009, Arthur Laurents, who wrote the original book, had many of the lines and lyrics of the Puerto Rican characters (the Sharks) translated into Spanish.
The result? Confusion. With some of the script and half of the songs in Spanish, the audience, especially newcomers to the show, miss out on the finer parts of the story. The actors do their best with body language and choreography, but it isn’t enough. And unless they are bilingual, those who grew up singing “I Feel Pretty” will be sorely disappointed.
There were some bright points in the production. Michelle Alves’ vivacity and talent bring a spark to Anita, and the ensemble admirably executes Jerome Robbins’ original choreography. The “Dance at the Gym” fills the stage with energy, and James Youmans’ scenic design helps to define the grim 1950’s NYC streets.
From the decidedly bland and sometimes downright unflattering costumes to the less than compelling performances of the leads, the caliber of the production does not live up to previous Broadway in Louisville standards. But despite the show’s flaws, this opening-night Louisville audience showed their appreciation with a standing ovation.
West Side Story is part of the PNC Broadway in Louisville series, and continues through Sunday at the Kentucky Center. Tickets are available online, or by calling the box office at 800-775-7777. Patrons can avoid convenience and handling fees by purchasing tickets in person or at the drive through window of the Kentucky Center box office.
Image: Courtesy PNC Broadway in Louisville