Are you ready to rumble?
If so, the Sharks and the Jets are waiting for you at Bass Hall, where the touring production of West Side Story rolled in Tuesday for a six-day, eight-performance run.
This production, based on a 2009 revival directed by the show's book author, Arthur Laurents, plays up the ethnic identities and tensions driving this update of Romeo and Juliet. The result is a greater sense of realism (the Sharks speak a little more Spanish than before, for example) and more power in its finish than the 1957 original.
But while its thematic elements may have been brought into sharper focus, it is still the music and movement that carries the day in this show. It has a fine, 11-piece pit orchestra, led by music director J. Michael Duff, and its dancing, by choreographer Joey McKneely (who worked from Jerome Robbins' original plan), is its strongest suit.
The entire cast kicks up its heels smartly, but they do not come through as well when acting and singing in this production directed by David Saint, the associate director of that 2009 version who stuck to Laurents' view of things in mounting this touring show.
There are some good efforts scattered through the ensemble. Michelle Alves lays it on thick and conjures of the spirits of Chita Rivera and Rita Moreno as the fiery and feisty Anita. Andres Acosta brings a great deal of presence to the role of Bernardo. And Bridget Riley makes the most of her small part as Anybodys, the tomboy who wants be a member of the Jets gang.
The rest of the cast gets the job done, but little more than that. Nobody is terrible, but nor are there any of those blow-away performances you hope to see emerge from a stage-full of young talent on the road. Addison Reid Coe, as Tony, and Maryjoanna Grisso, as Maria, sing their lead roles well enough, but neither ever takes your breath away. And the pair are so physically mismatched (Coe is tall and lanky, while Grisso is petite and slight) that the visual effect is almost comic.
James Youmans' set is appropriately urban and dreary, but it may be too respectful of the original. It is slightly disappointing that no modern bells and whistles (like projections) were added to the look of the show in this 21st century version. Howell Binkley's shadowy lighting plan also overstates its case a bit.
This production, however, is much more compelling in its second act than its first. Things become darker and more intense following the big gang fight that ends act one. The always-powerful conclusion probably packs more of wallop because it arises from a more realistic foundation.
The great music by Leonard Bernstein, amazing dancing and well-proven storyline are all there in this production presented by Performing Arts Fort Worth. Because of the large cast and level of difficulty of this musical, it is not done very often. So, even though it doesn't dazzle as often as you might hope, it is good to see a solid presentation of a great work that is too seldom experienced live.