West Side Story

Rarely has an audience leapt to its feet quicker than theatergoers did for the 50th anniversary European tour of "West Side Story."

Tony - David Curry Maria - Davinia Rodriguez Anita - Lana Gordon Riff - Spencer Howard Bernardo - Gabriel Canett Action - John Arthur Greene Chino - Xavier Cano Baby John - Christian Patterson Anybodys - Anna J. Stevens

Rarely has an audience leapt to its feet quicker than theatergoers did for the 50th anniversary European tour of “West Side Story.” Casting this quintessential American tuner, you need a triple-threat troupe who can sing Leonard Bernstein’s often-dissonant score and put across Stephen Sondheim’s acerbic lyrics while convincingly playing 1950s teenagers — not to mention dance like McKechnies and Baryshnikovs. Helmer Joey McKneely lucks out in the last department — the level of dancing is consistently dazzling. And thanks to his painstaking recreation of Jerome Robbins’ original chorography, the show explodes with passion and power.

From the carefree poetry of the opening boys’ ensemble, to the raucous dances at the gym, to the luscious ballet blanc, this production reps the best hoofing — modern, ballet, jazz, or otherwise — to hit dance-starved Vienna in several years.

At 50, “West Side Story” still seems new and dangerous, a fact which likely poisoned its chances at the 1958 Tony Awards (nabbing trophies only for Robbins’ choreography and Oliver Smith’s sets). Filled with the hip lingo of the Beat Generation, Arthur Laurents’ book, however, needs special treatment to keep it from sounding dated, which is one area where this revival sags.

The largely North American cast perhaps should have been given a primer in the punk patois of the long-gone era; their readings of terms like “cool” and “daddy-o” come off stilted. At times, it sounds like Henry Higgins served as dialogue coach.

The words are clearly but blandly enunciated, devoid of New York accents. Even the pan-European cast in Francesca Zambello’s 2003 production at Austria’s Bregenz Festival managed to work “distoibed” into “Gee, Officer Krupke,” here sung with diction that would do the Mormon Tabernacle Choir proud.

The Puerto Ricans switched their accents on and off, and, when their accents were on, the projected German subtitles came in handy.

Since the production will play Austria, France, Switzerland and Germany through the end of February, the accents may reflect McKneely’s conscious decision to make the book and lyrics more accessible to non-native-English-speaking audiences, but the choice costs the presentation some pizzazz.

Gorgeous Davinia Rodriguez, a diminutive Maria, superbly conveys the character’s progression from girl to woman, scaling back her sweet operatic soprano to fit the music. David Curry’s Tony veers in the opposite direction; you almost expect him to launch into “Pagliacci.” But his overall blandness makes him disappear, especially against Spencer Howard’s powerhouse Riff.

Lana Gordon’s pop-style belt is at odds with the other voices, but she makes an appropriately fiery, ultimately gut-wrenching Anita. John Arthur Greene, Christian Patterson, and Anna J. Stevens make large contributions in smaller roles.

Designer Paul Gallis’ sliding maze of fire escapes, accented by sepia-tinted projections of the Upper West Side before ground was broken for Lincoln Center is almost an homage to Smith’s original designs, atmospherically lit by Peter Halbsgut.

While the sets are strictly 1950s, Renate Schmitzer’s flagrantly contemporary, often ugly costumes are the productions’ biggest liability. Schmitzer’s got so many cargo pants and satin baseball jackets going on, it looks like she raided a Gap warehouse. Sporting muscle T’s, the wholesome Jets look like they’re prepping for boys’ night out in Chelsea rather than a rumble under the highway.

But the draw is the magic chemistry of Robbins, Sondheim, and Bernstein, their work looking and sounding as fresh as it did 50 years ago.

West Side Story

Stadthalle, Vienna; 2,036 seats; €87 $126 top

Production: A BB Promotion presentation in cooperation with Sundance Prods., New York, of a musical in two acts with music by Leonard Bernstein, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, book by Arthur Laurents. Directed by Joey McKneely. Original choreography, Jerome Robbins; reproduced by McKneely.

Creative: Sets, Paul Gallis; costumes, Renate Schmitzer; lighting, Peter Halbsgut; sound, Rick Clark; production stage manager, Dwan Attwood. Opened, reviewed Oct. 30, 2007. Running time: 2 HOURS, 25 MIN.

Cast: Tony - David Curry Maria - Davinia Rodriguez Anita - Lana Gordon Riff - Spencer Howard Bernardo - Gabriel Canett Action - John Arthur Greene Chino - Xavier Cano Baby John - Christian Patterson Anybodys - Anna J. StevensWith: Jeremy Dumont, Alex Ringler, Jordan Spencer, Victor James Wisehart, Ryan Ghysels, Steve Schepis, Shawn Burgess, Marcus Lovingood, Rashaan James II, Steven Montalvo, Trevor Illingworth, Richard Marshall, Kimberly Wolff, Jessi Trauth, Marina Lazzaretto, Heidi Kershaw, Jacquelyn Scafidi, Kelly Porter, Oneika Philipps, Nicole Chantal de Weever, Sophia Brion-Meisels, Nicole Baker, Lauren Lim Jackson, Herman Petras, Stephen Paul Johnson, Jon Agar, Stuart Dowling.

More Legit

  • Phoebe Waller-Bridge

    Listen: How Phoebe Waller-Bridge Shocked Herself With 'Fleabag'

    Both onstage and onscreen, the title character in “Fleabag” says things that are pretty outrageous — even to Phoebe Waller-Bridge, the woman who created her. Listen to this week’s podcast below: Known to television audiences as the creator of Amazon’s “Fleabag” as well as BBC America’s “Killing Eve,” Waller-Bridge is making her New York stage [...]

  • Emilia review

    West End Review: 'Emilia'

    We know next to nothing of the “Dark Lady of the Sonnets” — nothing beyond what Shakespeare tells us in 26 stanzas of overblown verse. Her eyes were nothing like the sun, of course – “raven black,” so he claims – and her lips were either paler than coral, as in Sonnet 130, or else [...]

  • Guys and Dolls

    'Guys and Dolls' Getting Remade at TriStar (EXCLUSIVE)

    “Guys and Dolls,” the venerable Broadway musical, is set to return to the big screen. TriStar Pictures has purchased remake rights to the original Damon Runyon short stories about gamblers and gangsters that inspired the shows, as well as the rights to the Broadway musical with its book by Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows and [...]

  • Sutton Foster

    Sutton Foster Starring Opposite Hugh Jackman in Broadway's 'The Music Man'

    “The Music Man” has found its Marian, the librarian. Sutton Foster, the two-time Tony Award winner, will star opposite Hugh Jackman in the upcoming revival of “The Music Man.” She will play Marian Paroo, a small-town librarian who is initially immune to Professor Harold Hill’s charms. It’s a role that was previously performed by the [...]

  • 'Black Super Hero Magic Mama' Review

    L.A. Theater Review: 'Black Super Hero Magic Mama'

    What function do superhero stories play in American society? Are they merely escapist distractions for head-in-the-clouds teens, or could those same formats actually serve a practical function, providing useful tools for everyday life? Recognizing these comic book fantasies as by far the dominant form of contemporary mythmaking for a generation of young people, emerging playwright [...]

  • Danielle Brooks'Ain't Too Proud - The

    How 'Orange Is the New Black' Star Danielle Brooks Became a Broadway Producer

    Danielle Brooks earned a Tony nomination when she made her Broadway debut as Sofia in the 2015 revival of “The Color Purple,” but now the “Orange Is the New Black” star is working behind the scenes as a producer on the new jukebox musical “Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations.” “I [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content