The new West Side Story revival attempts to reinterpret the classical music for a contemporary audience in a fraught political climate. It is Romeo and Juliet, but with tattoos and ripped clothing and barely suppressed rage rolling beneath the skin of every character. It is a story of old immigrants versus new immigrants, and how people living on the margins are forced to fight for the little scrap of the world they share. The cast is multiracial and the Sharks are played by actual people of color instead of white actors in brown face so that, I suppose, is progress. The Jets are not just disaffected white men but also black.
The stage is vast and ominously bare. The most interesting parts of the set — Doc’s store and the bridal shop, are found deep into the stage and parts are hidden from view. When action takes place in those spaces, it is projected onto massive screens, stretching across the stage. Sometimes, cast members film the action on stage. Other times, pre-recorded segments supplement the live action. Like far too many shows in recent years, West Side Story relies heavily, too heavily in fact, on projections that are expected to do the work stagecraft should.
Tonally, this West Side Story is significantly different from the original. “Gee, Officer Krupke,” is the most reimagined and affecting number. In the original, the song is supposed to be a farcical but prescient romp. In this revival, it becomes a commentary on police brutality and what it means to live in a surveillance state. The staging of this number is smart, if a bit heavy-handed, and a necessary reminder of the ways black and brown men are imperiled by systemic racism.
Taken one way, fear is this revival’s center of gravity and the talented cast acquit themselves well to the task. The choreography is frenetic and electrifying. The singing is raw, rough and angry. As dancers, the cast is uniformly talented though not every cast member has a strong enough voice to handle the show’s vocal demands. Shereen Pimental, as Maria, is the real standout. Her voice is flawless, and she has a magnetic stage presence. Tony, played by Isaac Powell, is a formidable actor with genuine appeal, but his voice falters and cannot adequately carry the…