'West Side Story' is superb; 'West Side Story.' Musical based on a Jerome Robbins conception with book by Arthur Laurents, music by Leonard Bernstein, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, directed and choreographed by Mr. Robbins, with book direction by Gerald Freedman.
"West Side Story," one of treasures of the American musical theater, has returned to Broadway in a triumphantly splendid and soaring production. As with the 1957 original, Jerome Robbins's brilliance and imaginative drive are the generating forces of the revival at the Minskoff Theater. Under his guidance, and with Peter Gennaro as co-choreographer, the performance recaptures the zest, fierce intensity, and dazzling movement of the original as it retells the Romeo-and-Juliet tragedy in a milieu of New York juvenile gang warfare.The riches of the score by Leonard Bernstein, with Stephen Sondheim's adroit lyrics, are matched in performance by the spectacular energy of the Robbins dances. "West Side Story" is not to be missed.
The libretto developed by Arthur Laurents from Mr. Robbins's concept, centers around the contest between the Caucasian Jets and the Puerto Rican Sharks for a piece of turf on New York's tough West Side. In the course of a high school hop at which the conflicting groups dance out their defiance, Tony, an ex- Jet, falls in love with Maria, whose brother Bernardo leads the Sharks.
Although the libretto plays its essential role, the compelling theatricality of "West Side Story" derives from the way the narrative builds, from the syncopated menace of the prologue, with its aggressive cross-stage dartings, to the muted anguish of the denoument. The show is a continual display of virtuosity. Yet the virtuosity, ranging from broad comedy to a poignant tragedy , always serves the human situation.
The melodic highs have lost none of their capacity to thrill -- in numbers like "Something's Coming," "Maria," "Tonight," "One Hand, One Heart," and the melting "Somewhere." The score frequently counterpoints conflicting themes as in the Anita-Maria duet, "A Boy Like That/I Have a Love." One sequence illustrates the ingenuity of the musical concept. Tony and Maria's love duet, "Tonight" is succeeded by the uproarious "America" (in which Debbie Allen's Anita brought down the house opening night). This quickly leads to "Cool," in which Riff (James J. Mellon) urges his fellow Jets to hold their anger in check until the moment comes to vent it with violence.
It would be difficult to imagine a more accomplished cast of singer-dancer-actors than Mr. Robbins and his producers have assembled. Ken Marshall and Jossie De Guzman are an ideal Tony and Maria. The amplification has not distorted their fine natural singing voices. Miss De Guzman, among other things, makes "I Feel Pretty" as enchanting as one had remembered it. The exhilarating level of performance extends to the other principals, including Hector Jaime Mercado as Bernardo, and to an ensemble whose adept athleticism upholds the Robbins tradition.
Besides its many small movable scenic pieces, the Oliver Smith setting images the big-city environs of "West Side Story" in the cage-like tracery of tenement fire escapes and the murkily outlined bridge arches that loom over the desolate scene of ultimate violence.
The production honors authenticity by using the original costume designs by Irene Sharaff and lighting by Jean Rosenthal. The program also notes that the choreography has been reproduced with the assistance of Tom Abbott, who danced in the 1957 production, and Lee Becker Theodore, who created the role of Anybody's. Such loving care and attention make "West Side Story" an occasion for rejoicing.