It’s easy for the musical theater staple “West Side Story” to take on a been-there, done-that quality, but the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s concert rendition, now playing at the Hollywood Bowl, proved you don’t need pyrotechnics to make the show enjoyable.
Presented with minimal staging and costumes, and expressively conducted by L.A. Phil artistic director Gustavo Dudamel, the focus was primarily on the music. Sometimes the densely percussive score can sound clunky, but Dudamel extracted the right colors from the orchestra to strike an exhilarating balance.
In a cast that mixed both seasoned professionals and debut artists, Jeremy Jordan makes for an ideal Tony, with a dulcet timbre that adds sweetness to the role. Karen Olivo, reprising her Tony Award-winning performance as Anita, also makes a strong impression, adding depth and complexity to her character.
On the heels of her college graduation, Solea Pfeiffer makes an impressive debut as Maria. Given her youth, some of her vocal imperfections are forgivable, especially considering her vivid dramatic interpretation. She and Jordan are charming in their scenes together, though their vocal blending sounds a bit strident at times.
The strongest singing of the evening belongs to Julia Bullock, who filled the summer air with magic with a showstopping rendition of the song “Somewhere.” (Bullock, a classical vocalist, will once again collaborate with the L.A. Phil in December.)
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It seems a good time to revisit “West Side Story,” considering all the race-based violence that has dominated the news within the last year. After the show, an unspoken solidarity lingers among audience members, especially following the musical’s tragic finale, which echoes real-world, contemporary events.
L.A. Phil will present “West Side Story” at the Hollywood Bowl on more time on July 19.