Anna Holloway Review: 'West Side Story' at Lyric
The short version of this review: Go, see it. It’s amazing.
It’s not often that a 60-year-old show stands the test of time. “West Side Story” opened on Broadway in September 1957. Lyric has brilliantly re-staged this American classic, using the original choreography by Jerome Robbins, and giving Oklahoma City an evening of magic. It does not look or feel any older than last week.
Written by Arthur Laurents, with music by Leonard Bernstein and lyrics by first-timer Stephen Sondheim, the show has garnered many awards and much acclaim, including in its 1961 film version. It’s best appreciated live, with the audience breathing in the tensions and concerns of the ordinary kids from first generation Polish American kids and Puerto Rican immigrant youth. Taking its pattern from Shakespeare, the show gives us a window into the terrified energy of teenagers trying to fit into and manage a world not of their own making.
With a cast of 29, this is a big show. Almost all of them must be serious triple-threats: acting, singing, and dancing ability in equal and very large measure. The voices of the leads must be powerful and blend beautifully. And almost all of them have to be believable as teenagers.
The set must allow for quick movement from scene to scene; this is a longer musical and every second counts. The costumes must locate us in the 1950s without trapping us there, and they must read as real clothes while allowing the classical dance moves to read as dramatic expression.
Lyric’s production checks all the boxes without stopping for a breath.
Directed by Matthew Gardiner, the production uses a unit set that evokes the old ethnically diverse — and troubled — Upper West Side in 1950s Manhattan. It rapidly and silently moves to specifics — a drugstore, a tailor shop, a bedroom — at the drop of a pin. Costumes, while evoking the period beautifully, do not leave us thinking that this is a ‘period’ piece — they have a strong sense of "present" in them. Jeffery Meek, himself a dancer, has made the wardrobe work with the extraordinary movement so that no movement is impeded or awkward in the outfit. Helen Kuukka’s lighting evokes changes of day and time and sometimes of reality itself.
Bernstein’s innovative music was delivered well by the supporting orchestra and by the cast of excellent singers, ably conducted by music director Jan McDaniel. The stunning choreography, Jerome Robbins’ original work, brilliantly adapted for this set by Amy Reynolds-Reed, was groundbreaking in 1957, and it looks just as fresh six decades later.
Austin Colby as Tony gave us a solid acting job that was almost overshadowed by his extraordinary voice. The part has a wide range, and Colby glided smoothly from low to high without apparent register change. MaryJoanna Grisso as Maria delivered an achingly beautiful soprano with both fragility and power. Desiree Davar’s Anita was bittersweet and gutsy.
The ensemble provided strong acting and singing and powerful dancing. Diction was precise and clear in the first half, although it got a little muddy in “I feel pretty” and “Officer Krupke” in the second half. Pacing overall was brisk; it does not feel like just over two-and-a-half hours.
The whole production was a beautiful tribute to a pioneering musical that reads as current and up-to-date — an amazing experience.
Show times include 7:30 p.m. Thursday; 8 p.m. Friday; and 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturday at Civic Center Music Hall. For tickets and information, call 405-297-2264 or go to the website at http://lyrictheatreokc.com/shows/west-side-story/.
Go, see this show.