Left: Anita and chorus from the Broadway cast. Right:Riff and the Jets from the Broadway Cast.

WEST SIDE STORY: Musical. Book by Arthur Laurents. Music by Leonard Bernstein. Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. Directed by Arthur Laurents.x. Orpheum Theatre, 1192 Market St., San Francisco. (888) 746-1799 or www.shnsf.com. October 27 – November 28, 2010


In this latest road show of the fantastic musical retelling of the Romeo and Juliet tragedy, with Leonard Bernstein’s music, Stephen Sondheim’s lyrics and Jerome Robbins’ choreography, that is West Side Story, David Saint keeps the Broadway staging by Arthur Lawrence intact and Joey McKneely dutifully reproduces Jerome Robbins’ choreography.

When the curtain lifts the anticipation is high and we are not disappointed as the Sharks and the Jets merge from the wings of the atmospheric tenement set to snap their fingers and do fine justice to Robbins’ feral dance steps. Add to this Sondheim’s sturdy lyrics set to Bernstein’s brilliant music and the show is off to a great start and holds your attention for the entire two hours and 20 minutes. Riff and the Jets, may not be likeable but they sure can express their virility in dance with soaring leaps and intimidating mass movements as the move from back to front stage.

The Puerto Rican Sharks led by Bernardo match the Jets step for step, blow for blow and you will find it difficult to choose sides when the frequent confrontations erupt. Yet there is beauty within the danger of the dancing. The girls get their turn and the “Dance at the Gym” give them the chance to strut their stuff. Once again the role of Anita, made famous by Chita Rivera, demands full attention when she leads the Shark’s girls in the gym and later in the show stopping “America.” One caveat, Laurents has elected to have some of the scenes sung and spoken in Spanish to add verisimilitude but at times is distracting.

Then there is the fateful love story that begins with Tony (fine baritone voiced Kyle Harris) singing the plaintive “Something’s Coming.” The attraction of Maria (fine soprano Ali Ewoldt) to Tony is palpable when the meet for the first time with “Maria” and is radiant with “Tonight” in the balcony scene.

One cannot admire enough the construction of West Side Story where tender moments are interspersed with active dancing and conflict. For example Riff (Joseph J. Simone) leads the Sharks in the (once again) finger snapping “Cool”, followed by Tony and Maria’s duet “One Hand, One Heart.” Then, with a reprise of “Tonight”, there is a shift to the gut wrenching “The Rumble” under the highway bridge to end the first act.

Act two offers most of the humor when Maria and the girls share “I Feel Pretty” (sung mostly in Spanish) and later when the jets act up a storm in song and dance with “Gee, Officer Krupke” justifying their antisocial behavior.

Although you know the ending, the final scenes will bring a lump to your throat and have you humming the tunes as you leave the theater. You won’t find a better way to spend an evening.

Kedar K. Adour, MD

Courtesy of www.theatreworldintermagazine.com