Wednesday, May 27, 2009

West Side Story

Last night I saw the bilingual Broadway revival of my most favorite musical/film ever.I felt it bore reviewing, so here it is:

Experiments in multilingualism will always win in my book, but I can objectively say this was a successful endeavor. Curiously, because almost all of the Spanish-only sections were relegated to intimate conversations between Sharks-Ladies, a whole new window to the traditionally "Puerto Ricans versus WASPs" storyline was opened: Girls versus Boys.

When "I Feel Pretty" and "A Boy Like That" are sung entirely in Spanish, you know it's Theirs, and not Yours. And that makes the taboo of Jets-Sharks interaction so much the more palpable. The snide jokes about Tony not speaking Spanish, of Gladhand toolishly attempting to translate the obvious, of the Sharks-Girls making fun of each others poor dye jobs... Wonderful. And for the record, Tony was no, THE OTHER Tony. The Tony Award that went to Anita.

Best. Anita. Ever.


The Shark-Ladies were ferocious (Maria threatening to shoot Diesel, execution style, anybody?). And if the PR girls were like Amazonas, the Jet-Boys were like...

Hot Cops from Arrested Development.

This isn't to say The Jets were fée. That would have actually been nice. It's to say they were like strippers playing gangsters. It's to say there was no empathy. It's to say that like strippers, they was all lookie, no touchie, no promise of a future together. No jazz, no pizazz. No... No...

Hmmm. Let me put it this way. In the original versions, I can feel a chorus of Castrati singing in my heart. In West Side Story 2.0, I felt like I was in a Jersey gym. I'm guessing the new crew tried to update the feel of a street gang by making them slightly less gay than they were in the 60s. But c'mon people. In 2009, street gangs don't dance in skin tight jeans unless they are ironic delinquents from Williamsburg anyway, so keep it gay. Make me love you, Jets!

Before I move on maybe I should explain the story. You know, in case you haven't watched it 2 million times like I have. In a nutshell: The year is (supposed to be) 1957. Hell's Kitchen. Maria is Puerto Rican and Tony isn't. They meet at a "Get Together Dance" and fall in love; their respective crews get pissed. They Do It; their respective crews get pissed. Tony dies.

If this is the only version of the play you see, you won't be able to say he didn't have it coming.
Worst. Tony. Ever.

Again, gayness notwithstanding, he sounded like Wayne Newton sitting on a vibrator. The durogatory kind of gay. It's any wonder his big solo was "Maria," which of course is Spanish for "Mary."

Consolation comes with the fact that Tony and Maria are actually the characters of least consequence in this musical. West Side Story is about Jerome Robbins, Arthur Laurentis, Stephen Sondheim and Leonard Bernstein, and I was certainly the worst person to judge this thing. No one's expectations were higher than mine last night.

Still, I think it's worth it to see some outrageously amazing women steal your hearts; steel their nerves; really update the classic without compromising its archane virtues.

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