'West Side Story': Not so pretty


I'm sure that Kyle Harris, the Tony in the touring production of West Side Story, is a talented performer. He certainly has the professional credits to indicate the vocal chops to take on the role, but that certainly wasn't on display Tuesday evening. His warbling voice made his every duet with Maria (Ali Ewoldt) something to endure instead of enjoy.

In fact, this was really a West Side Story to endure rather than enjoy. It all felt like an emotionless, clockwork operation: characters come on stage, they sing some famous Stephen Sondheim lyrics, dance to Leonard Bernstein's score, and go on. What was missing was any kind of spark from our leads, who dully went through the motions of their famed love affair. Musicals don't afford the actors many chances to build characters, and they missed most of them as they came along, never managing to fill in any depth to make the audience care about their plight or the tragic end of their love story.

Based off the most recent Broadway revival, the production's main innovation is to have some of the dialogue (and lyrics) from the Puerto Rican Sharks spoken (and sung) in Spanish. It adds a touch of verisimilitude to the proceedings, but there's not enough of it to make it feel like anything more than a stunt.

On the upside, there's still the gorgeous score and clever lyrics (though typical opening night at the Orpheum sound problems sometimes made it tough to understand), providing a perfect setting for the Joey McKneely-by-way-of-Jerome Robbins choreography, which is spectacular throughout. Though Harris and Ewoldt don't have enough chemistry to carry the central star-crossed love story, the supporting players, especially Michelle Aravena as Anita and German Santiago as Bernardo, pick up plenty of the slack.

So, West Side Story is pretty to look at, but there's not much going on upstairs here. In the past month I've sat through a four-hour-plus production of Torch Song Trilogy and Waiting for Godot in a steamy, abandoned theater without air conditioning on a 90-degree evening and only felt a fraction of the "get on with it!" feelings generated here. 

West Side Story runs at the Orpheum Theatre through Sunday.