West Side Story Review - Making Something Old New

The revival of West Side Story grandly rumbled into Chicago for a 4-week run until August 14 with several exciting improvements enhancing its 54-year reputation as one of America’s all-time favorite musicals.

This classical Broadway success story, now playing at Chicago’s Cadillac Palace Theatre (151 W. Randolph St.), is the familiar story of the neighborhood newcomers, the Puerto Rican Sharks gang,  fighting for turf and leadership – plus the forbidden interracial love story of Maria and Tony– against the New York Jets in a seedy, poverty-stricken neighborhood of New York’s upper west side.

This national tour features the late Arthur Laurents’ direction, interpreted by his longtime associate, David Saint.  Saint made some major changes, including adding authentic Spanish dialogue for the Sharks’ actors to speak amongst themselves.  This, in itself, adds dramatic realism and authenticity to the formerly all-English dialogue.

The dialogue and lyrics were translated by Lin-Manuel Miranda, the author of In The  Heights, to reflect a combination of Spanish from Puerto Rico and the newly learned English on the west side street corners.

Saint also removed much of the coy, out-dated musical comedy jargon of the 1950s, like girls saying “oobley ooh” and “oobley ooh doo” or gang members uttering “say Uncle.”  This would help the audience take the gangs more seriously as troubled youths who were a product of a world filled with bigotry and violence within this tragic story.

The original West Side Story featured several of Broadway’s deceased major domos: Jerome Robbins (choreography) and Leonard Bernstein (composer) as well as the alive-and-thriving Stephen Sondheim.

For those younger audiences who never saw the original movie, the Broadway show or one of its national tours, this is a once-in-a-lifetime musical drama experience which is not expected to be in Chicago for a long, long time. 

Consider the musical hits, under the talented West Side Story Orchestra Conductor, John O’Neill,  including: “Something’s Coming,” “Maria,” “I Feel Pretty,” “Tonight,” “America,” and “Somewhere.”  Add the intense dances and the artistry of the gangs fighting.

It’s easy to fall in love with Tony, played by Kyle Harris and Maria, acted by Ali Ewoldt. They are both stars in their own rights as they comfortably evolve into believable lovers-at-first-sight until the tragic ending to their story.

Anita, acted by the talented, loquacious Michelle Aravena, adds enjoyment with her expressive singing and suggestive dancing.

The rest of the touring cast is first-class and multi-cultural.

West Side Story continues through August 14 at the Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 W. Randolph St.  The running time is 2 hours, 30 minutes.

Tickets are $32-$95 at 800-775-2000 and www.broadway-inchicago.com 

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