Sunday, April 10, 2016

Somewhere, Somehow: 'West Side Story' Dazzles Anew in the Far West Suburbs -- Chicago Theater Review

Theater Review

West Side Story
Paramount Theatre, Aurora
Thru April 24

Probably the worst thing I can say about the Paramount's superlative production of West Side Story is that for whatever nearly imperceptible, ill-defined reason, it just didn't feel like the best rendition I've ever seen.

The 1957 masterpiece based on Romeo & Juliet, with music by Leonard Bernstein, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, book by Arthur Laurents and original direction & choreography by Jerome Robbins, would likely factor into any argument about the greatest Broadway musicals--and film musicals for that matter--and ranks third among my favorites.

I have now seen West Side Story onstage six times in the last 12 years--including on Broadway under the direction of Laurents, on a fantastic national tour, in a summer stock production in Sullivan, IL and in wonderful regional productions at Marriott Theatre Lincolnshire, Drury Lane Oakbrook and now the Paramount Theatre Aurora--and I have never not completely loved it.

Including yesterday.

Under the direction of Paramount artistic director Jim Corti, this large-scale version features demonstrably superb choreography by William Carlos Angulo, including wondrous dancing during the Prologue, the Dance at the Gym and on "America," "Cool" and "Gee, Officer Krupke."

All of the performers are quite good, including Zoe Nadal as Maria, Will Skrip at Tony, Mary Antonini as Anita, Alexander Aguilar as Bernardo and Tom McElroy as a particularly incensed Doc. (Sorry, but I won't be explaining the story here; find the movie if nothing else.)

It is truly a joy to hear a 20-piece orchestra playing Bernstein's sublime score, with the brass particularly resonant. Kevin Depinet's set design, Theresa Ham's costumes and the lighting by Jesse Klug are also to be highly commended.

Only in minor ways did some of the vocal timbres seem not quite pristine, and my seat location could well account for why I wasn't quite as intoxicated by this West Side Story as some past.

The decision to stage "Somewhere" as a group ballet rather than with soloists didn't much bother me, but perhaps lessened some of the "Wow!" factor.

Although Chris Jones' Tribune review had prepared me for the darker texture director Corti employs, particularly in the end scene, I'm not sure I would have noticed otherwise.

And certainly, a hidden camera would have caught me mirthfully singing along (silently!) and tapping my fingers to "Maria," "Tonight," "America," "Somewhere," "Gee, Officer Krupke" and even "I Feel Pretty," with Bernstein's orchestrations matched by the brilliance of Sondheim's words throughout.

The glorious Paramount Theatre makes for a great venue to see any show, particularly a musical this good.

So whether or not this is the very best West Side Story I've ever seen is rather immaterial; this is undoubtedly the best production of it right now in the Chicago area--I'm not aware of any others--and probably won't be topped all year.

So if you love musical theater and have the opportunity to get to Aurora to see this West Side Story before it closes in two weeks, by all means, do so. Despite some grim moments and dark themes, it should delight the entire family, and can be a great ways to introduce the kids to one of the very best cultural creations of any kind.

Anytime, anywhere.

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