Friday, May 17, 2019

Review: The Lyric's West Side Story is Amazing.

We saw West Side Story at a matinee production last week at the Lyric Opera of Chicago and it was very well done.  It was well worth seeing.

The musical is itself a re-telling of the story of Romeo and Juliet, set in New York in the 1930's, and adding a Latino/whites race war element.

It's one of the top musicals ever, with music by Leonard Bernstein, lyrics by Steven Sondheim and the book by Arthur Laurents.

This production is extra special, as it is a revival of the direction and choreography of Jerome Robbins, classic ballet and musical director.

Here's the promo reel.

As can be expected from the Lyric the voices were rich, the sets were well done, and the music was exceedingly well-played.  The choreography was great (although my 10 year old son complained that the fight scenes were too dancy, but that was exactly Robbins point-- to use ballet in the fight scenes and to make them graceful.)  Our modern sensibility demands realism, but when this production was first created in the late 1950's that was not the case.

Mikaela Bennet as Maria and Corey Cott as Tony. Photo courtesy of Lyric Opera website.
The thing that blew me away about this production was the acting.  While I do expect the sets to be sumptuously designed and the voices to be great, the acting at the Lyric is not always up to snuff.  And of course the songs are all great and recognizable.  GET THE SOUNDTRACK ON AMAZON.

The beautiful voices often carry the acting.  In this case, the acting is phenomenal, especially of the four main characters (Tony and Maria, the star crossed lovers (played by Corey Cott and Mikaela Bennett), and her brother Bernardo (Manual Stark-Santos)and his lover Anita (Amanda Castro.)

Usually when I've seen either this play or R and J (or really, any star-crossed lovers play) the lovers are seen as tragic figures, and their love is usually solemn.  When Tony and Maria meet at the dress shop where she works, they are both positively giddy with love.  They are loopy-- you can see the effect that their love has on them, and it shows.  I 100% bought their love, (and when they start pretending that the dress forms are their parents, and what they'll say about each other, it's magical.)  This sets up the whole set of strange optimistic bad decisions that they make.

Likewise, when Anita storms into Maria's room looking for Tony (he has just left) she immediately goes to the window to find him.  When she turns around, she is angry and sad and she sings:

A boy like that who'd kill your brother
Forget that boy and find another
One of your own kind
Stick to your own kind
A boy like that wants one thing only
And when he's done he'll leave you lonely
He'll murder your love, he murdered mine, just wait and see
Just wait, Maria, just wait and see

I had chills.

Bernardo didn't have a stand out scene per se, but he commanded every scene that he was in, and embodied that young male rage and sense of injustice.  He sings, he dances, he acts.  He is great! 

In this production, it is clear that the cops and the Jets have it in for him and his gang, and his outrage and anger are palpable throughout.  

That leads me to the other point about this musical, is that its themes of racism, antagonism, and xenophobia still ring true 70 years later.  Not sure if that points out that people haven't changed that much or that we just still have a long way to go as a society before "Justice For All" becomes a reality.

For all these reasons, I highly recommend seeing the show before it closes on June 2.

Performances run through June 2, 2019 at the Lyric Opera House, 20 N. Wacker Drive, Chicago. Tickets are on sale now starting at $29 and can be purchased at or by calling 312-827-5600.

West Side Story is a coproduction with Houston Grand Opera and Glimmerglass Festival.

1 comment:

Ash Green said...
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