West Side Story Revolution: The Revival

It’s the Citizen Kane, the Sgt. Pepper’s, the Super Mario Brothers of the Great White Way; it’s the greatest Broadway musical of all-time.

It’s West Side Story and it’s definitely in the Land of Punt.

Josefina Scaglione (left) and Matt Cavenaugh, obviously portraying Action and Diesel.

Josefina Scaglione (left) and Matt Cavenaugh, obviously portraying Action and Diesel.

How can you not love a musical where gangs of delinquent youths battle for turf via the choreography of Jerome Robbins? Wouldn’t the world be a much better place if instead of bringing brass knuckles to a rumble, gang members brought jazz hands?

Apparently, Arthur Laurents thinks so. He’s the seven-hundred year old author of the original West Side Story book(well, after Shakespeare) and the man behind the revival.

That’s right, the great one is finally back. For the first time since 1980,
West Side Story tickets are selling on Broadway.

Land of Punt will now break for a little history, West Side Story debut Broadway in 1957 and is based on William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. The film, staring Natalie Wood and the incomparable Rita Moreno, was released in 1961. Leonard Bernstein wrote the music and Stephen Sondheim wrote lyrics. The original production was directed by Robbins.

Most people don't know this, but there's dancing in West Side Story.

Most people don't know this, but there's dancing in West Side Story.

For this version, Laurents has made some significant changes. Most notably the frequent use of Spanish. “I Feel Pretty” and “A Boy Like That” are “Siento Hermosa” and “Un Hombre Asi,” respectively. Lin-Manuel Miranda provided the translations.

The New York Times says the Spanish is somewhat successful, while Newsday complains that it’s overused. Reuters called it gimmicky.

Laurents has also toughened up the musical, if one can toughen up a musical. The gangs are more ruthless, staging is more dramatic and “Gee, Officer Krupke” is no longer comic relief. In the scene where Anita tries to pass Maria’s message to Tony, the Jets treatment of her resembles rape more than a fouetté.

Fortunately, Bernstein’s music and Sondheim’s lyrics remain intact.

An image from the cruxification scene in West Side Story.  This is taken right aftet the cast performed Jesus Christ Superstar.

An image from the cruxification scene in West Side Story. This is taken right aftet the cast performed Jesus Christ Superstar.

As you might imagine, the reviews for the revival have been mixed. Bloomberg said the production is “tight, tough [and] not to be missed.”

The L.A. Times basically asserted that the music and lyrics help hide the poor acting and direction.

Variety proclaimed Laurents’ retelling is the “revival it deserves.”

The Associated Press said it was “sketchy and slow.”

The Chicago Tribune called it a “mostly successful revival.”

Perhaps the most poignant reaction came from Frank Scheck of the Hollywood Reporter:

“The idea that a musical as brilliant as ‘West Side Story’ would require reinventing seems a bit dubious, and the doubts are confirmed by the new Broadway revival.”

Dubious or not, fans will flock to Laurents’ revival now playing at the Palace Theatre After all, when you’re a West Side Story fan, you’re a fan all the way, from your first cigarette to your last dyin’ day.

The cast of West Side Story taking the audience's lunch orders.

The cast of West Side Story taking the audience's lunch order.

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