Youmans: 'West Side Story' revival is some of the 'best theater'

September 01, 2011|By Heather Youmans

"West Side Story" was credited with changing the course of American musical theater when the Sharks and the Jets burst onto Broadway 55 years ago.

A national touring revival of the Broadway hit is coming to Orange County from Tuesday through Sept. 18 at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa.

The production will feature songs from the renowned Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim score, including American songbook standards like "Tonight," "America" and "I Feel Pretty."


David Saint, the associate director on Broadway, has recreated the Tony Award-winning direction by librettist Arthur Laurents. Tony nominee Joey McKneely ("The Boy from Oz" and "The Life") reproduced the original choreography by Jerome Robbins.

Robbins directed and choreographed the original production, which starred Larry Kert as "Tony," Carol Lawrence as "Maria," Chita Rivera as "Anita." The first production received six Tony Award nominations for 1957, including Best Musical.

However, the general public may be more familiar with the 1961 Academy Award-winning movie directed by Robbins and Robert Wise, starring Natalie Wood and Richard Beymer as Maria and Tony, and Rita Moreno as Anita.

After two revivals, in 1964 and 1980, the 2009 Broadway production and current national tour mark the musical's third incarnation. Yet, "West Side Story" joins a growing list of successful revivals.

On Broadway, a recurring trend is beginning to reveal itself: revivals have become the favored daughter, while original works are gaining a reputation as that awkward middle child that can never quite get their — make that their audiences' — feet off the ground.

Despite tedious efforts, this "new wave" of contemporary musical theater may have a harder time taking off than everyone expected. As it turns out, the special effects, elaborate spectacles and catchy pop tunes are only alluring to the viewer for a little while and over time, lose their luster. Shows are closing at a record rate and consequently taking to the road.

So if revenue isn't finding its way to the newer, contemporary musicals, then what shows are filling the seats?

Perhaps theater-goers still have a soft spot for the classics. No other musical defines this speculation better than "West Side Story."

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