Thursday, February 17, 2011

Broward Center: West Side Story (5 reviews)

The National Tour of the revitalized West Side Story opened at The Broward Center for the Performing Arts on February 15, 2011.
Directed by its two-time Tony Award®-winning librettist Arthur Laurents, WEST SIDE STORY remains as powerful, poignant and timely as ever. The new Broadway cast album of WEST SIDE STORY recently won the 2010 Grammy Award® for Best Musical Show Album.

The Bernstein and Sondheim score is considered to be one of Broadway's finest.
David Saint directed the new version first staged by Aurthur Laurents in 2009, with a cast that included Kyle Harris, Ali Ewoldt, Alexandra Frohlinger, Michelle Aravena, Joseph J. Simone, and German Santiago. Jerome Robbins' original choreography was reproduced by Joey McKneely. Additional Spanish dialogue by Lin-Manuel Rodriguez.

Bill Hirschman reviewed for South Florida Theater Review:
For the huge percentage of Broadway audiences unfamiliar with modern dance or ballet, Robbins’ genius for propelling plot and exposing character through seemingly abstract motion was a revelation Tuesday at the Broward Center.
This tour directed by David Saint is based on the 2009 revival helmed by Laurents himself. They have infused every aspect of the production with a vitality and a flow that mirrors Robbins’ vibrance and drive.
This production has inventive touches of its own. The most moving is a scene missing from the film: a dream ballet in which Tony and Maria imagine a world without hate, normally danced while one of the Puerto Rican women off stage sings the haunting Somewhere. But in this version, the song is given to Anybodys, the “tomboy” whose likely future as a closeted lesbian will be fraught with pain. The yearning in Alexandra Frohlinger’s clear strong singing voice – intentionally different from her character’s defensive growl – elicits a catch in your throat.
The actors, singers and dancers throw themselves unreservedly into what middle-class theatergoers once thought was a gritty documentary and now can only be seen as a quaint fable with a timeless message.
Kyle Harris as a slightly dopey, basically decent Tony (think Finn in Glee) and Ali Ewoldt as a dewy Maria make audiences believe not just in their
love-at-first-sight, but in their naive conviction that their love can
conquer the ethnic hatred and crushing violence surrounding them.
Sometimes it is a period piece with Laurents’ jarring slang (some phrases reportedly invented for the show for fear that whatever real jargon they used would date quickly). But other times, Laurents comes up with dialogue that could have been penned by Tupac Shakur.
Other than missing the full sound of the large orchestras of yore, the production’s only shortcoming is its most publicized element. The revival hired Lin-Manuel Miranda (creator of In the Heights) to translate some of the dialogue and lyrics into Spanish... Anglo crowds did not understand key moments and some of the new work was dumped a few months into the New York run. But enough has been retained to continue to baffle non-Spanish speakers...

What does comes across both in the production and the source material is a purity of spirit in the yearning of humanity to put aside the hatred that only creates blood in the street.
Christine Dolen reviewed for The Miami Herald:
...its run... serves as a reminder of just how innovative its inspired creators were in 1957 when they transformed Shakespeare’s great young-love tragedy into their own brilliant meditation on the terrible price of pointless hatred.
As director this time, Laurents brought this new West Side Story to fruition in 2009, collaborating with In the Heights creator Lin-Manuel Miranda to get the Puerto Rican Sharks and their girls expressing some of their dearest, fiercest feelings in Spanish. Used judiciously, the Spanish lends authenticity and (for those who aren’t bilingual) doesn’t much detract from the storytelling, as key points are restated in English.
This touring version... isn’t perfect in every respect. But it is undeniably thrilling.
...set designer James Youmans and lighting designer Howell Binkley create simple yet varied environments, including evocatively oppressive ones that help fuel the characters’ restlessness.
The touring company is full of athletic, balletic dancers who gloriously deliver the show’s famous choreography...  a standard-setting reminder of just how great Broadway choreography can be but too seldom is.
The sizzling Michelle Aravena and swaggering German Santiago make for a way caliente couple as Anita and Bernardo, easily conveying the idea that these two can’t wait for the fighting to be over so their bedroom rumble can begin. Conversely, though the crazily smitten Tony and Maria do get one tender night together, Kyle Harris and Ali Ewoldt play the doomed lovers with a preternatural giddiness.
The Sentinel's fashion editor, Rod Stafford Hagwood, weighed in for the Sun-Sentinel;
The touring production of West Side Story now at Broward Center of the Performing Arts doesn't — thankfully — go splat, but it does wobble a bit from serviceable to sweet.
One of Laurent's innovations was to inject Spanish dialogue and lyrics (with the help of Lin-Manuel Miranda of In the Heights fame) into the script, attempting to give some street cred to the backdrop of gangs in a blighted urban landscape. Especially in the second act whole swaths... are in Spanish, leaving Anglos in the audience outside peering in. The instincts may have sounded right on the drawing boards, but it just isn't as effective as one might think.
...there are jaw-dropping moments — simulated masturbation, attempted gang rape — that are incongruent with the Gap ad costumes and colorful "Glee" backdrops. But if it's menace that you're missing from other countless productions, it is here. There are times when there is real blood pumping through West Side Story.
...Ali Ewoldt as Maria is mesmerizing with a top spin to her voice that thrills. Although waaay too clean-cut for Tony, Kyle Harris is a capable Tony and although he never really connects with Something's Coming or Maria, he comes tantalizingly close.
Anita, the most fully-developed character, is played adeptly by Michelle Aravena. Somewhere is sung oh-so-sweetly by Alexandra Frohlinger as the tomboy Anybodys.
Skip Sheffield reviewed for the Boca Tribune:
... this “West Side Story” is a fresh look at a musical theater classic more than 50 years old.
...Kyle Harris in a word, terrific... vocally Harris is the strongest Tony I've seen...sufficiently believable as the tough guy...
Ali Ewoldt, a lovely soprano who thrills the most when she is hitting operatic high notes.
Anita... is played with passion and depth by Michelle Aravena.
...this is proof that there is a lot of life yet in this contemporary classic.
Laura Souto Laramee wrote a review worthy of a middle school student for The Palm Beach Post:
Although the production set was minimalistic at best, the talented cast kept your attention focused on the incredible story, showing the mix of different worlds and cultures and combining Spanish and English in a way no other show has.
Jupiter native Michael Scirrotto, in his role as Pepe, was the hometown favorite and incredible on stage. However, there were many other enjoyable moments and highlights during the show.
OK, even the Theatre Scene isn't this SoFla Centric.
It was interesting to watch the culture clash while knowing that today most people have embraced the idea of diversity. But even more interesting was the fact that there is still so many key themes that lyricist Sondheim captured in the songs that ring true today...
I think Ms. Laramee should take some remedial writing classes, and the Post should hire a real theatre critic, because these reviews are some of the worst writing we've seen.  Even Rod Hagwood writes better.

West Side Story plays at The Broward Center through February 27.


  1. this was not west side story... the operatic female voices were unintelligable, the characters, tony and riff, completely miscast and the ridiculous addition of so much spanish singing and dialogue ruined the humor of the original.
    so sorry I promised my niece that this would be better than the movie, which I own. this was tragic

  2. I did not like this at all. Ravinia Festival in Highland Park had the most recent version that I saw. It was magnificent. The one in Broward was not good in my opinion.

  3. What part of Florida was that? I've never heard of either.

  4. Not to offend anyone, but I did find the spanish to be distracting. Even though I know the story I had to have my friend translate some of it for me. I thought that maybe it was because it was being shown in South Florida, but later found out that it was a revival and being shown nationally. I think it should have been advertised as bilingual, so I could have made the choice not to see it.