Palace Theatre, New York
This “much-anticipated” revival of West Side Story turns out to be “neither revelation nor vandalism,” said Linda Winer in Newsday. As he did last year with Gypsy, Arthur Laurents, still kicking at 91, directs a classic musical for which he wrote the libretto. Untouched here are Leonard Bernstein’s “gloriously sentimental songs, and (most of) Stephen Sondheim’s swaggering dazzling lyrics.” New is a darker, less-cartoonish take on the show’s violence, and extended passages of actual Spanish that are spoken and sung by the Puerto Rican characters. Laurents hired In the Heights’ Lin-Manuel Miranda to provide a couple of well-crafted Spanish translations of Sondheim (“I Feel Pretty” becomes “Siento Hermosa,” “A Boy Like That” is now “Un Hombre Asi”). But no amount of retooling can ruin—or much improve—West Side Story.
“The show’s indestructibility, if ever in doubt,” is now assured, said Charles McNulty in the Los Angeles Times. The rivalry between the Puerto Rican and Anglo street gangs for turf in New York’s Hell’s Kitchen, and the “heartbreaking” story of Tony and Maria—“two amorous young people caught in the ethnic enmity of their rival communities”—still resonate. Only Laurents’ “patchy” direction and confusing blocking of crucial moments keep this from being a production for the ages. But just when such flaws begin to annoy, along comes a Jerome Robbins dance number, “vibrantly reproduced” by choreographer Joey McKneely, and another Bernstein/Sondheim song to whisk you back into musical bliss.
I confess that something has always bugged me about West Side Story, said Ben Brantley in The New York Times. “Despite being given some of the most gorgeous love songs ever written,” its romantic leads usually come across as a vacuous pair of “tear-stained paper dolls.” Not so here. Matt Cavenaugh and newcomer Josefina Scaglione lend the characters a needed dose of realism. Tony and Maria are, perhaps for the first time, made “at least partly responsible for their fate, instead of passive victims.” It works, and makes you think about the familiar story in a whole new way. “For the first time, I could imagine what Tony and Maria’s marriage might be like.”