Friday, May 17, 2019

Stay Cool: Lyric Opera Presents a Wonderful 'West Side Story' -- Chicago Theater Review

Theater Review

West Side Story
Lyric Opera of Chicago 
Thru June 2

West Side Story is one of the greatest artistic creations of all-time and--not so coincidentally--one of the most brilliant collaborations ever.

With its retelling of William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, the musical--which opened on Broadway in 1957--was conceived, choreographed and directed by Jerome Robbins.

The script (book) was written by Arthur Laurents, the music by Leonard Bernstein and the lyrics by Stephen Sondheim.

Though it didn't capture the 1957 Tony Award for Best New Musical--The Music Man did--West Side Story was presumably pretty close to perfect from the get-go, with its 1961 film adaptation winning the Academy Award for Best Picture.

I've seen stage productions in a variety of places--on Broadway for a 2009 revival, in Chicago on the national tour that followed, in three suburban self-producing theaters (Marriott Lincolnshire, Drury Lane Oakbrook, Paramount Aurora) and even a summer stock rendition in Sullivan, IL--and have always loved the show.

I think I can confidently call West Side Story my third favorite stage musical of all-time, behind just
The Producers and Les Misérables.

And qualitatively I wouldn't quibble with anyone dubbing it second to none. 

So any solid production is going to delight me, and the one now at the Lyric Opera of Chicago--co-produced with two other opera companies--is certainly that, and often quite scintillating.

I don't believe it's the best rendition I've ever seen, but the Lyric orchestra makes Bernstein's score sound superb, while Robbins' original choreography is beautifully re-enacted and the songs are--of course--sublime.

Bringing genuine Broadway leading man credits--Newsies, Gigi, Bandstand--Corey Cott makes for an excellent Tony; his singing on "Maria" is terrific.

And though--albeit via binoculars from the upper balcony--I didn't sense him having supreme chemistry with Mikaela Bennett as Maria, she too has good stage presence a fantastic voice.

They duet nicely on "Tonight," and she shines on "Somewhere."

From my elevated vantage point, I couldn't distinguish other performers all that precisely, but Amanda Castro (dazzling on "America" as Anita), Miguel Stark Santos (Bernardo), Brett Thiele (Riff) and more all seemed well up to the task.

Though the vast cast pulls from everywhere, it was nice to note longtime Chicago area performers like Ed Kross (Glad Hand) and Bret Tuomi (Officer Schrank).

Directed by Francesca Zambello, this is a rather traditional West Side Story--sung in Broadway stylings far more than operatic--but there's nothing wrong, and much right, about that.

The orchestra is larger than at most Broadway shows, making for a striking sonic richness, while Robbins' glorious group dances--on the Prologue, "Dance at the Gym," "Cool" and more--reproduced by Julio Monge upon a great set designed by Peter J. Davidon, all dazzle.

From what I've read, Zambello's production has been done in many other places, but the Lyric Opera is to be credited for presenting a traditional Broadway musical each year, and West Side Story stands among their best.

For whatever inexact reasons, it didn't feel "OMG! This is the best ever!" but any quibbles are far secondary to my delight.

Hopefully you can find a discount or otherwise reasonably-priced ticket before this run ends on June 2. (Check Goldstar and HotTix)

For even just the quality of the live music--for which you could readily pay a decent buck to hear in a concert hall--serves to make this rendition of a magnificent show with a moving narrative, fine singing, great tunes and killer dancing an especially storied affair.

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