Published On: Tue, Feb 22nd, 2011

‘West Side Story’ a modern classic with a new voice

By Skip Sheffield

On one hand, “West Side Story” is a time capsule of a bygone era of the mid-50s in New York City.

One the other hand, the much-beloved musical revival that plays through Feb. 27 at Broward Center is a timeless love story borrowed freely from Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet.”

The national touring production in residence in Fort Lauderdale is a little bit of both.

Arthur Laurents, the original librettist (with composer Leonard Bernstein and lyricist Stephen Sondheim) rewrote some of the dialogue and lyrics in Spanish as well as English.

Laurents, who should be considered a national treasure, also directed the Broadway show that opened in March, 2009.

This is the third major revival of the record-breaking, precedent-setting, multi Tony Award-winning show that opened on Broadway in 1957 if you don’t count the 1961 movie, which would make it the fourth.

In addition to the bilingual dialogue, which makes sense considering half the characters are Puerto Rican, the original Jerome Robbins

Kyle Harris and Ali Ewoldt in the updated version of “West Side Story.”

choreography has been restaged and in subtle ways re-envisioned by Joey McKneeley (“The Boy from Oz”).

As a result this “West Side Story” is a fresh look at a musical theater classic more than 50 years old.

Playing the Romeo role of Tony is Kyle Harris, who is in a world terrific. I didn’t get to see Larry Kert in the original, but vocally Harris is the strongest Tony I’ve seen. Dramatically as the smitten, conflicted leader of the Anglo gang The Jets, Harris is sufficiently believable as a romantic tough guy.

In the Juliet role of Maria is Ali Ewoldt, a lovely soprano who thrills the most when she is hitting operatic high notes.

Anita, the fiery older sister of Maria, is played with passion and depth by Michelle Aravena. This is the spotlight-stealing role that made stars of both Chita Rivera in the original and Rita Moreno in the movie, and Aravena goes toe-to-toe with these theatrical legends.

Anita needs a strong Bernardo, and German Santiago is just that guy; the proud, fearless but fair leader of the Puerto Rican gang The Sharks.

There are other joys in the show: Joseph J. Simeone in the Tybalt role of Riff, Alexandra Frohlinger as the tomboy Anybodys, who stuns with a gorgeous soprano on the reprise of “Somewhere,” and the entire singing and dancing cast, backed by a rich and full orchestra.

There may be some naysayers who contend “This is not the West Side Story I know and love,” but I disagree (by David at dresshead fashion) . Musical theater is a living, breathing, growing thing, and this is proof there is a lot of life yet in this contemporary classic.

Tickets are $25-$69 and may be reserved by calling 954-462-0222 or by going to www.broadwayacrossamerica.com.

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