Revisiting the West Side

West Side Story is magnificently reborn on Broadway and Charles Kaiser attends, rubbing elbows with theater royalty including writer-director Arthur Laurents, Kathleen Turner, and Lauren Bacall.

BY Charles Kaiser

March 19 2009 11:00 PM ET

WEST SIDE STORY CAST AND ARTHUR LAURENTS X390 (GETTY) | ADVOCATE.COM

It was the suggestion
of Laurents's partner of 52 years, Tom Hatcher,
who died in 2006, to make this modern-day
Romeo and Juliet

bilingual, rendering some of the dialogue of the Sharks in
Spanish. A couple of the original songs are also translated,
including "I Feel Pretty" (now "Siento
Hermosa"), with new lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda, who
wrote last year's Tony Award-winning
In the Heights.

The result is a greater
feeling of verisimilitude and emotional honesty, especially
when Anita and Maria sing a wrenching half-Spanish,
half-English "A Boy Like That"("Un Hombre
Asi").

Another splendid
Laurents innovation is the use of a young boy, redheaded
Nicholas Barasch, to sing the beginning of
"Somewhere" in the beautiful dream sequence in the
second act -- a singing role previously filled by a soprano in
the orchestra pit.

Anita is played with
enormous power by Karen Olivo, another
In the Heights

veteran, and this production's Maria is the most persuasive
newcomer to Manhattan ever, partly because she is portrayed by
Josefina Scaglione, a stunning 21-year-old opera singer who
"hails directly from Argentina," as the Playbill puts
it. Laurents told me he knew he'd found the perfect Maria
as soon as he saw her: "She's just
incredible."

The chemistry between
Scaglione's Maria and Matt Cavenaugh's Tony is the most
convincing it's ever been. As Ben Brantley writes in today's
New York Times,

"for the first time I could imagine what Tony and Maria's
marriage might be like."

Tags: Theater

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