“West Side Story” is a beautiful show in all respects when handled properly, as it was by The Muny in 2005 in a company headlined by Andrea Burns and Matthew Scott. This Arthur Laurents, Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim collaboration is a true American classic. The company now on stage at The Fox has several things very much in its favor, and a few other elements that keep the show from reaching its full desired potential and staying totally engaged with the audience.
On the plus side, the 19 piece orchestra under the baton of John O’Neill (with 14 local musicians in the pit) gives wonderful body and richness to the score. It is unusual to have this large an orchestra for a touring show at The Fox, or even in a Broadway production for that matter, and it makes a very big difference, even though this orchestra could use the stronger presence of a french horn.
Evy Ortiz in the role of Maria sings with a remarkable passion that is central to her love struck character’s personality. The cast choreography is on point and bold. The staging is relatively simple. The tone of this revival of “West Side Story” is purposely more somber. Spanish lyrics and lines have been added to give the show’s ethnic flavor a little more authenticity, which is something that probably worked better in New York City than anywhere else. Ross Lekites as Tony is a major flaw. In a word, he is far too bland and is costumed like he might have just come from The Gap. Additionally, in his duets with Ortiz there is a definite disconnect.
Michelle Aravena is very enjoyable and authentic as Anita. She lends a touch of performance maturity that is needed in this company.
It was a near capacity crowd on opening night. Valentine’s Day was the perfect time to bring “West Side Story” to town. The second act on opening night was far more effective than the first act.
“West Side Story” runs at The Fox through February 26th and is presented by Dance St. Louis.