Revival Review

13 01 2009

Over the weekend, I saw the revival of the ever-popular musical, West Side Story. The musical is showing currently at the National Theater, D.C. The revival is being tried out here, in Washington before going to Broadway to try and make it big. 

One noteworthy aspect of this show is that the actress who plays Anita, Karen Olivo is the very same woman who created the role of Vanessa in the new hit musical, In The Heights. I saw this actress in In The Heights, also before it went to Broadway, which was cool. So just seeing West Side Story to see this actress would be a reason to go.

Probably the most significant difference between this production of West Side Story and any other production you’ve seen (including the famous movie) is that a number of the songs are performed entirely in Spanish. This has become quite a controversial issue. “I Feel Pretty, ” “Tonight,” and “Somewhere” are the songs sung in Spanish, and while the well known song, “I Feel Pretty” is recognizable enough so that you already knows what is being sung, the other songs are not as easy to follow along to. Plus, there are no supertitles, which although might be kind of tacky looking, could be pretty useful.

I did enjoy that the first song sung entirely in Spanish, “I Feel Pretty,” was overly dramatic and staged quite funny. It reminded me a lot of the song, “Sandra Dee” in Grease, where the main character is being teased (in this case for being in love). The other songs are not nearly as well known, so it wasn’t as successful. I kept expecting the actors to sing the song again in English after the verses were sung in Spanish (which could very well be done). But maybe that’s just the English-speaker I am. I don’t know. On one hand, it’s like, hello! This is America! Speak in English! But on the other hand, it emphasizes the immigration to this country. 

I could understand how there could be some reasoning for this choice. Aside from the fact that Spanish is practically the second language of the U.S. and would attract a wide bilingual audience; the songs sung in Spanish were the songs that took place in the private homes of the Puerto Rican characters. I would just assume that would be more realistic that they would chose to talk (and therefore) sing in their native language when at home where it is easier and more comfortable. 

As my brother pointed out though, this version of the show is very aware of the racial differences it explores. This, as you can imagine, is extra relevant with Barack Obama coming into office. While most people see a black man as president as breaking more and more racial boundaries, I can’t help but notice how much publicity is still around for the fact that he is black. It’s like, by trying to ignore his race, we are also emphasizing and bringing it to everyone’s attention that Obama is black, or in the case of this West Side Story, that those characters are Puerto Rican. The language barrier just enforces the racial differences.

Other than that, I really enjoyed the show. The guy who plays Riff apparently was the winner of Bravo TV’s show, “Step It Up and Dance.”  (I only watched the first few episodes of, but that is still pretty cool.) A lot of the members of the cast are also pretty young, too, making the average age somewhere in the early 20s. One person’s bio in the program read that being in this show was the best 18th birthday present! Wow. But the young actors can really put on a show. The dancing was the best part, which is good for such a dance-heavy musical.

The show ends in D.C in a few days on Jan. 17th, so get your tickets soon! The New York opening is set for March 19th (the day after my birthday!).

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