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Short and Sweet – An Audience View: West Side Story

West Side Story Company. © Carol Rosegg 2012
West Side Story Company.
© Carol Rosegg 2012

Broadway In Chicago is happy to introduce “Short and Sweet,” a quick view of our shows courtesy of Diana Martinez, who will give you the lowdown on Broadway In Chicago productions from the perspective of an audience member. Diana has more than 25 years of experience as an entertainment executive, most recently as President of The Second City. She has directed and produced over 40 live Broadway musical theatre shows and has presented more than 350 world-class Broadway national tours, dance, headline comedians and concert. We hope you enjoy this quick insight into our shows, and since this is all about our audience, share your own thoughts with us in the comments below.

West Side Story hits home in Chicago

Sitting in the theatre last night watching the opening of West Side Story at the Oriental Theatre, I couldn’t stop thinking about how timeless and relevant the messages of prejudice, gangs and senseless violence in this piece are. The show was written in 1957 and is possibly more meaningful today with news cycles blaring gang-related violence on a daily basis.  This opening night performance featured a young, scrappy and powerful cast that made the show very believable. This is not a glamourized “cookie cutter version” of West Side with over-the-top, glamorized satin costumes. This version is raw and honest, even sprinkling in a little Spanish, which helps to emphasize the roots of any cultural divide, which is usually based in a lack of mutual misunderstanding.

Dan Laura Kemper
Dan Laura Kemper

When you take one of the best scores in American musical theatre history and bring it to life with a cast that is fully committed it’s tough to go wrong. This passionate cast was deeply committed and gave it their all. I had two guest audience critics with me – Dan and Laura Kemper of Arlington Heights. When the intermission lights came up Dan looked at me and said, “I can’t believe how great the singing is.” An engineer by trade, he continued on with his appreciation for the set in it’s angular steel structural design and functionality. The production takes advantage of showing off this strong vocal ensemble with some fun and impressive vocal choices in “I Feel Pretty,” and a powerful “Tonight Quintet” near the end of Act One that delivers chills.

The opening night audience showed their wild appreciation for the spicy Michelle Alves who led the Shark girls in a fantastic and lively rendition of “America” with a show-stopping ovation. The cast is also graced with a beautiful, young and poised Maria (MaryJoanna Grisso) who has a gorgeous voice and solid connection with Addison Reid Coe, who plays Tony. The scenes where the two of them were alone stood strongest. They truly bring you back to the powerful feelings of innocence and passion only found in a first love.

I have seen this show several times in my career and the direction offers some nice, fresh variations with a gorgeous dream ballet in “Somewhere,” and fantastic comedic moments sprinkled in that truly enhance the scenes. Especially noteworthy is the opening scene led by Glad Hand, with his hysterical and miserable attempts to speak “Spanglish” in a failed attempt to be inclusive.

Somewhere around 1977 my mom brought me to see my first Broadway tour: it was another version of West Side Story this time at the Arie Crown theatre starring Leslie Uggams. When a nice usher offered to take me backstage and meet Ms. Uggams after the show, it was there that my love for musical theatre began. If you have a tween or teen this show will resonate deeply with them – don’t miss this chance to introduce them to this classic American musical theatre production and go see West Side Story at the Oriental Threatre. Trust me – it’s a gift they will always treasure. I know I did and it changed my life.

WSS program
1977 West Side Story program