Theater Review: Maria and Ton...no no no.

I'm going to do this review a little differently, just because I think it warrants it. But before I begin, let me disclose a few things.
  1. I have never seen West Side Story live prior to this
  2. I have seen the film at least 10 times
  3. Richard Beymer will always be the best Tony/Peter (if you've ever seen The Diary of Anne Frank... I know, I'm the only one who liked that movie)
  4. I was crushed when I found out that wasn't really Natalie Wood singing
With all that on the table, here we go.

The Re-vamped Direction - Prior to its opening, there was a lot of speculation as to the changes Arthur Laurents made from the original show to fit more for today. For starters, he's included a lot more spanish dialogue to make the communication problems between the gangs feel more realistic. For this task he brought Tony winning creator of In The Heights, Lin Manuel Miranda, on board to do the translations. Two of the songs, "I Feel Pretty" and "A Boy Like That," are now entirely in Spanish. I think this was an important and well executed change. For a musical that is so well known and memorized by audiences, a spanish translation doesn't take away anything, if anything it enhances the reality of those situations. Laurents also wanted the gangs to seem more thuggish, and for Anita's near rape scene to feel intensified. Unfortunately in these arena's I think the play stays too close to the original, timid and Broadway-ized. The Jets and the Sharks still feel like suburbanites who've been flown in to play gang members. But for true blue lovers of the original, you won't be disappointed, it's the same.

The Sets - The set's were beautiful, very sparse, but exactly what you would picture. One of the most impressive designs was for the rumble under the bridge, where different pieces come down from the ceiling as well as a giant link fence.
Short and Sweet - Simplistic and impressive

The Choreography - I've never seen a group of boys jump so high! One scene I felt was too over-the-top and entirely too cheesy for the material, was the heaven-esque scene when a little red haired boy enters the stage and sings "Somewhere," while the dancers perform a short ballet. I don't know if this was an update or the same as before, but I just laughed through the whole thing. For such a beautiful song and a pivotal scene, I can't believe that went in such a cliche direction. I prefer the simplified film version where Maria and Tony sing together in her room. But in the little red headed boy's defense, he had a good voice.

The Acting

- In 21 year old classically trained opera singer Josefina Scaglione, Maria becomes perfectly embodied. Both in looks and voice, Josefina was undoubtedly the right choice for this part and this revival. She is not well known in America yet, but in her home of Argentina, she has appeared in several productions opposite some of their biggest stars. From the moment she stepped on stage I was impressed with her poise, ability to hit all the fleeting moments of humor, and her underlying strength that Maria needs. The casting director receives an A++ on this.
Short and Sweet - She was lovely, but full of power.

Riff - Riff always was and remains my favorite character in West Side. Though he looks like he came straight out of a high school production, I loved Cody Green. Green is actually best known to television audiences at the winner of Bravo's Step It Up and Dance competition. He has a good voice, but more importantly he can dance (obviously), and do both with extreme likability. Had I had it my way, he would have played Tony... but more on that later. Russ Tamblyn's Riff is a hard act to follow, but I think Green was a smart choice for the role. Though I am sure that a few other boys in the cast might make a good leader as well, most notably Action.
Short and Sweet - He stepped it up and danced his ass off.

Action - I was pretty upset to have missed Xanadu on Broadway, but luckily I got a chance to see both of the Sonnys in other shows, Cheyenne Jackson, who was the only bright spot in the otherwise horrible revival of Damn' Yankees, and Curtis Holbrook as Action in West Side. Holbrook is phenomenal, and it only makes me all the more sad that I missed him as a lead. But he gets plenty of stage time, including singing one of the best numbers in this production, "Officer Krupke." He brings so much charisma, animation and life to his character and raises the bar for anyone else on stage. In an interview Holbrook said it's been his dream since he was 9 to be in West Side Story on Broadway, and that really comes across on stage.
Short and Sweet - Action was awesome (a highlight of the show).

Anita - Though Karen Olivo, now well known as Vanessa in the Tony winning In The Heights, typically plays Anita, our performance had her understudy, Yanira Marin. She did a great job with the attitude and comedy that Anita must have and she got the most laughs by far (as she should). The the girl could dance, but when it came to her voice, it became clear why Marin was the standby. She just couldn't hit the notes, most noticeably when singing solo. During "A Boy Like That/I Have A Love," it was almost laughable because as it was a duet with Josefina, whose voice is outstanding. But I give Marin props for stepping into a role like that and handling it to the best of her ability. I would still love to see Olivo in the role though.
Short and Sweet - The girl's got everything but the voice.

Bernardo - The role made famous by the dashing George Chakiris has now been taken over by the handsome George Akram. Akram, a native Venezuelan, was raised by two professional dancers, so it's no surprise that he has ended up here. He can dance, sing (though he sings very little), and sweep Anita off her feet, but most importantly the man can pull off purple. His role isn't as big as I wished it was, and of course, he's gone by the beginning of the second act.
Short and Sweet - Pretty gorgeous, and isn't that what's important?

and finally... (Darth Vader theme plays)

Tony - From the moment Matt Cavenaugh opened his mouth I knew I was going to hate him, but it wasn't just me. 15 minutes into the show my mother whispered in my ear "I want to shoot him." It's difficult to explain in writing all the things wrong with Cavenaugh's performance as Tony, but imagine if he spoke like a Jewish grandmother, and then you'll have a jumping off point. While his singing voice wasn't horrible, his speaking voice was nails on a chalkboard-worthy. Every word felt so incredibly forced and just, AHHHH terrible! and not to be crass, but I wasn't into his look either, he just didn't feel or act at all like Tony. This is such a pivotal role, that it amazes me even with his ineptitude that I enjoyed the musical as much as I did. I hope this speaks very highly to rest of the cast, especially Josefina who could play opposite a sponge and make it compelling. I find it impossible to imagine anyone seeing his audition and thinking, "This guy's our Tony." That person should be fired point blank. So don't let my Tony rant prevent you from seeing the show, just grit your teeth whenever he's on stage and focus on all the other lovely people.
Short and Sweet - If Chino hadn't shot him, I would have.

Overall, I'm ecstatic I got a chance to see the show live, and even Tony, no matter how hard he tried, couldn't ruin that for me.

Celebrity Sitings 
Bernadette Peters
Renee Zellweger
Jennifer Tilly

The way they were... ohh Beymer.

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