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Review: 'West Side Story' at Clowes Hall

June 5, 2013
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The production of “West Side Story” that lumbered into Clowes Hall on June 4 (and runs through June 9) to close out the 2013/2014 Broadway series has two things going for it.

The first is a warm performance by Maryjoanna Grisso, who is able to capture star-crossed lover Maria’s innocence, her budding sexuality and, most interestingly, her fear. Hers is a Maria who knows that—as good as it feels and as complete as it makes her—her love for Tony is opening the door to a big pile of trouble.

The second asset is the decision to convert some of the Shark dialogue and song lyrics into Spanish. Rather than being a move toward political correctness, the choice (made for the Broadway revival that this non-Equity tour is based on) provides balance between the two gangs, accentuates the gulf between the two cultures, and should create a greater sense of authenticity.

Should.

The effect of these changes—and of Grisso’s performance—are mitigated by an overall sloppiness that permeates the production. It’s got a Tony who rushes his lines so badly that I had an easier time understanding Bernardo’s Spanish (a language I don’t speak); a personality-free Riff who has difficulty holding notes; Sharks who are indistinguishable from Jets; and an Anita whose performance seems grafted together from the disconnected performances of other Anitas.

And good luck making any sense of the second-act ballet, in which tomboy wannabe-gang-member Anybodys seems to become part of the Maria/Tony family, and “Somewhere” is sung by a staring-at-the-audience Shark girl. (To confuse matters further, a look at a review from an early stop on the tour indicates that the song was sung there by Anybodys. And the Broadway revival had it sung by a boy soprano. Are they drawing straws before the show? Will Lt. Schrank get a turn?)

The music is played as well as can be expected from an 11-piece orchestra. The dance moves are executed efficiently but rarely infused with the passion that would make us care. In short, this is the “West Side Story” you might find at a decent college or summer stock company. It’s not what we should expect from a series that uses the word “Broadway” in its title.

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