Wednesday, May 13, 2009

"West Side Story": A Collection of Reviews of the Revival

One of the most challenging things about watching the Tonys and getting excited about them is that, unlike movies, the nominated shows are not readily available to watch unless you live in New York and/ or have a lot of disposable income to see numerous Broadway shows a year. Since I am not able to get to NYC and see all of these shows, the next best thing is to watch the available clips on YouTube and read the reviews. Consequently, here is the first in a series of collections of reviews and YouTube clips for the nominated shows. This post will focus on the revival of West Side Story, which had decidedly mixed reviews.

This revival, directed by the show's librettist Arthur Laurents, takes a different (if not entirely successful) approach by having the Sharks do much of their singing in Spanish. Laurents hoped that, by showing the different languages, the disconnect and the tension between the Sharks and the Jets would be much more evident and realistic. While this bilingual approach is interesting, the revival hasn't enjoyed complete critical acclaim:
  • Ben Brantley, from The New York Times, reviewed the show and found it enjoyable if somewhat uneven.
  • Entertainment Weekly's review gives the show a "B-" and applauds Laurents's bilingual approach and the performances of Karen Olivio (Anita) and Josefina Scaglione (Maria).
  • The New York Daily News cited some of the show's strengths (specifically Olivio and Scaglione) but decried the male performers, who seem "boy-next-door to be thug-down-the-block."
  • John Lahr's review for The New Yorker is probably one of the most glowing the show has received. In it, Lahr praises Arthur Laurents, noting that Laurents's "attempts to heighten the show’s realism only enhance" its beauty.
  • Variety also gave the revival a very positive review, with reviewer David Rooney singling out Olivio and Scaglione.
To get a better sense of what these reviews are talking about, here are a few YouTube videos of the cast performing:

"America" performed on Good Morning America

"Cool" performed on Good Morning America

Watching this clip, it is easy to see what the reviewers mean when they complain that the boys aren't terribly convincing as gang members. However, to give the actors the benefit of the doubt, it is hard to pretend to be a bad ass when dancing under a bright yellow sign reading "Good Morning America Spring Concert Series." On an even more shallow note, the boys' costumes are pretty good, but the girls look awful.