“West Side Story” returns to the Pantages in April – Los Angeles musical theater review

“West Side Story” returns to the Pantages in April – Los Angeles musical theater review

WSS - at the dance - photo by Joan Marcus
photo by Joan Marcus


West Side Story returns to the Pantages Theatre, Hollywood

One Week Only ∙ April 9—14, 2013

Possibly the greatest musical ever created, WEST SIDE STORY – a modern version of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet set on the mean streets of New York during the turbulent fifties – will play at the Pantages Theatre in Hollywood from April 9—14, 2013.

WEST SIDE STORY features Addison Reid Coe as Tony, Mary Joanna Grisso as Maria, Michelle Alves as Anita, Theo Lencicki as Riff and Andrés Acosta as Bernardo.

Rounding out the current company of WEST SIDE STORY are Amber Ardolino, Yesenia Ayala, Lauren Cannon, Konrad Case, Blue Cervini, Max Chucker, Mark Deler, Erika Hebron, Dan Higgins, Matthew Krob, Greg London, Guy Mandia Jr, Thomas Mothershed, Louie Napoleon,Thaddeus Pearson, Josh Pins, Anthony Raimondi, J. Nycole Ralph, Tory Ramirez, Bridget Riley, Ricardo Rique-Sanchez, Arianna Rosario, Carolina Sanchez, Michael Shultz, Jeff M. Smith,Tony Thomas, Juan Torres-Falcon and Laura Volpacchio.

Previously reviewed:

An exceptional musical, with a gifted young cast and experienced orchestra, fantastic staging and – of course – incredible choreography, this production is handsomely presented and full of vitality, grace and passion.

WSS the women of the Sharks - photo by Joan Marcus
photo by Joan Marcus

Boasting soaring music by Leonard Bernstein, tender lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, gripping story and book by Arthur Laurents, and brilliant and ground-breaking choreography by Jerome Robbins, here is a case where the confluence of exceptional talents created magic; West Side Story is “lightning in a bottle.”

The current production at the Pantages Theatre is an electrifying and faithful re-staging of Arthur Laurents’ original Broadway production, with direction by David Saint, using the original stunning choreography by Jerome Robbins, here reproduced by Joey McKneely and his talented cast.

Who else but Robbins could choreograph tough street gangs who dance to express their angst, frustration and ferocious rivalry? When have you ever seen the expression of repressed anger through a pirouette? The iconic song “Cool” distills this idea and succinctly presents it with such heat, passion and explosion of pent-up energy, it virtually leaps off the stage. And when the orchestra let loose with some of those memorable melodies – especially the vibrant brass section – it is thrilling to experience live.

WWS - the Jets - photo by Joan Marcus
photo by Joan Marcus

The young cast is exceptionally good in this bi-lingual production. (Remarkably, the Puerto Ricans speak amongst themselves in Spanish and Lin-Manuel Miranda, of In The Heights fame, was hired to re-work and infuse the bi-racial story with actual Spanish into the text and music.) But it doesn’t matter if you don’t speak Spanish – you can still understand exactly what’s going on during these scenes.

WSS - Tony and Maria  - photo by Joan Marcus
photo by Joan Marcus

Portraying the powerful love story is Tony (Addison Reid Coe) gives a strong performance) and a delightfully talented Maria (Mary Joanna Grisso) who brings a youthful innocence and sweetness to her performance, along with a pure and soaring voice that is more than up to the challenges of this role. Michelle Alves gives a gutsy depth to her performance as the sassy Anita, Maria’s best friend and more-or-less her sister-in-law. Andrés Acosta exudes arrogance and sex-appeal and is impressive as Puerto-Rican gang leader Bernardo, who rules ‘The Sharks’. Another favorite character is Anybodys, the kicked-around tomboy who yearns to be part of the all-guy gang, ‘The Jets.’ For the magical song “Somewhere”* she gives an exquisite rendition during the gorgeous, dream-ballet sequence in Act 2 that makes good use of vibrantly back-lit silhouette and elegant staging. During this utopian scene, the gangs unite in harmony.

The gorgeous costumes are designed by David C. Woolard – not just for the sneaker-and jeans-clad gangs but the outfits they all wear to the school dance, but also the outfits that help us delineate between the two gangs. Additionally, these kids have to execute some pretty challenging dance moves while wearing these costumes! Then there’s the fantastic industrial and minimal sets by scenic designer James Youman that rate a mention. Not only does Youman effectively conjure up the old tenement housing of New York, with its fire escapes and shabby brickwork, but also huge set pieces glide on and off stage with seemingly little effort. A show-stopper is the large cloth or set piece that flies in upstage when the two gangs congregate under the freeway for their rumble, just before the close of Act 1. It feels exactly like being in the movie theater that day when you saw Star Wars for the first time and during the opening moments that massive spaceship flies overhead for the longest time. When that freeway set piece flies in upstage, and the chain link fence flies in downstage, your jaw drops. It’s impressive stuff.

It’s important to note that when this musical was created during the fifties, only Jerome Robbins was known. Sondheim was a newcomer, as was Bernstein (relatively speaking). Laurents’ Broadway career was patchy.

Backstory from Wikipedia:

In 1949, Jerome Robbins approached Leonard Bernstein and Arthur Laurents about collaborating on a contemporary musical adaptation of Romeo and Juliet. He proposed that the plot focus on the conflict between an Italian American Roman Catholic family and a Jewish family living on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, during the Easter-Passover season. The girl has survived the Holocaust and emigrated from Israel; the conflict was to be centered around anti-Semitism of the Catholic “Jets” towards the Jewish “Emeralds” (a name that made its way into the script as a reference).

Eager to write his first musical, Laurents immediately agreed. Bernstein wanted to present the material in operatic form, but Robbins and Laurents resisted the suggestion. They described the project as “lyric theatre,” and Laurents wrote a first draft he called East Side Story. Only after he completed it did the group realize it was little more than a musicalization of themes that had already been covered in plays like Abie’s Irish Rose. When he opted to drop out, the three men went their separate ways, and the piece was shelved for almost five years. When the project resumed, Robbins went on to win a Tony award for his choreography in 1957. Along with Robert Wise, Robbins co-directed the movie version, which won a staggering ten of its eleven nominations, including the Oscar for Best Picture in 1961.

This current staging of West Side Story – being the national touring company of the new Broadway production – has everything you could want from a night of musical theater. West Side Story is a legendary classic for good reason. Do not miss this show!

*BTW – It was the character of Consuelo (in the role originated and performed by Reri Grist) who sang the beautiful ballad “Somewhere” in the original 1957 stage production. Go here to hear her sing this exquisite song.


Pantages Theatre

6233 Hollywood Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90028-5310
(323) 468-1770


April 9—14, 2013.

Tuesday through Friday at 8pm;

Saturday at 2pm & 8pm;

Sundays at 1pm & 6:30pm



$45.00–250.00 (not including fees)

Select tickets available for $32.00 (meaning $25.00, plus $7.00 fee)

Tickets for WEST SIDE STORY may be purchased online here or here or by phone at 1-800-982-2787.

Tickets may also be purchased in person at the Pantages Box Office and all Ticketmaster outlets.

The Pantages Theatre is located at 6233 Hollywood Boulevard, just east of Vine Street, and the box office opens daily at 10am except for holidays.




Review by Pauline Adamek

Pauline Adamek

Pauline Adamek is a Los Angeles-based arts enthusiast with twenty-five years' experience covering International Film Festivals and reviewing new Theatre, Film and Restaurants.


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