Thursday, July 21, 2011

West Side Story Retro-Updated Wonderful

We checked out opening night of West Side Story and were amazed and impressed.   The Puerto Rican Sharks actually speak Spanish to each other now, and the cheesy, extraneous 50's lingo is gone!    Yet the costumes, sets and classic choreography place this production firmly in the historical, true to the original, revival category. This Grammy award-winning, Broadway smash hit is playing for just 4 weeks at Cadillac Palace, and it's well worth seeing.   The cast earned a rousing, almost unanimous standing ovation last night.  

"I Feel Pretty" and "Gee, Officer Krupke" were particularly excellent.    I'm still impressed at just how adeptly this production managed to be simultaneously raunchy and innocent.   The sexual innuendo came mostly in the form of hilarious gestures, and yet the characters had a sweet naivete that was pure 1950's.    Gangbangers today, at least in Chicago, don't bother with war councils or try to duke it out in fair fights with skin.   They go right for the guns and bystanders beware.   Yet the timeless tragedy of lives cut short, racism, and violence springing from fear ring out as loud and true today as ever.

There wasn't a weak link in the powerhouse vocals, big dance numbers or acting.   Yet Anita, played by Michelle Aravena, was a stand out across the board.   The cast's energy was also palpable and believable in all the machismo posturing scenes

This production is unique in that 50 years after its birth, the two remaining living creators, Arthur Laurents and Stephen Sondheim were the ones to revive and revise it.    Although under 15% of the total show is in Spanish now, it lends a welcome air of authenticity to this production for The Sharks dialogue between themselves to be in their native language.   The lines and lyrics aren't even just a straight Spanish, but were painstakingly translated into Puerto Rican street dialect, a hybrid of Upper West Side Manhattan street English and Spanish.    

Broadway in Chicago gave the show an equivalent of a PG13 rating, yet I didn't hesitate to take my 8 year old daughter, who thoroughly enjoyed the big dance numbers, the world class singing, and the drama of the story line.   

We met a 6 year old girl, a few rows away, who loved the show, too.   They had seen the movie, prior to the musical, and her mom happily exclaimed that they'd be buying the soundtrack so they could dance and sing along at home.    We'd prepped by discussing the similarities to Romeo and Juliet, gang culture and conflict, and the historical time frame when the show was first created and how it's still timely and relevant today--all in an accessible to 3rd graders way.

As we've said before, know your children, familiarize yourself with the production, revisit the movie and soundtrack after bed time,  and know your own comfort levels before you take your young children.   Kids under 4 are absolutely not admitted, but we thought the production was pretty innocent on the shock scale.

For video clips, ticket info and show details, click HERE.

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