(Maryjoanna Grisso and Jarrad Biron Green. Photo: Amy Boyle)
The “Tonight Quintet” in West Side Story, the song that ushers in the show’s first act finale, is one of my all-time favorite ensemble numbers. It is second only to “One Day More” from Les Miserables. When I first heard the opening brass vamps of the Quintet song I bounced a little bit in my seat inside the National Theatre. However there was something different about this particular performance of the song. The verses sung by the Sharks were in Spanish, like many other numbers throughout the show that were sung by Puerto Rican characters. Those changes, new to me and perhaps those that haven’t seen the West Side Story apart from previous versions or the iconic 1961 film, were originally incorporated into the 2009 Broadway revival of the show for which the current tour is based off of. The result is a West Side Story that is more modern and offers something different to audiences who think they know the Bernstein and Sondheim masterpiece.
Besides the languages changes, this production of West Side Story is more racy, gritty, and raw. The confrontation between Anita and the Jets in the second scene is much more explicit. In past productions, inferences of rape and sexual assault were skirted around by actors, here you see A-rab (Justin Joseph Laguna) pull down his pants and you know what despicable act he is about to commit. The character behaviors also reflect a more modern society with healthy doses of making out between girlfriends and boyfriends and plenty of obscene gestures during moments of angsty teenage anger.
It’s clear that this production of West Side Story is not your Grandmother’s West Side Story.
But at the same time the show still retains all the classic elements that has made West Side Story a show that has endured over 60 years on stage. You’ll still find beautifully choreographed dance scenes between the Jets and Sharks complete with snaps, leaps, and of course, Mambo. The “Tonight” duet between star-crossed lovers Tony (Jarrad Biron Green) and Maria (Maryjoanna Grisso) is still a highlight of the show but this show’s version of “Gee, Officer Krupke”, revisited as a misunderstood adolescent rant, almost steals the show.
Almost everybody knows the story of the Romeo and Juliet inspired musical, but most likely not everyone has seen it like this. This tour of West Side Story offers just enough to appease fans of the show but with a fresh enough take to keep things interesting.
West Side Story, performs through June 8th, 2014 at the National Theatre. The National Theatre is located at 1321 Pennsylvania Avenue Northwest Washington, DC 20004. Closest Metro stop: Metro Center (Red/Orange/Blue line). Tickets start at $58 For more information call 202-628-6161.