‘West Side Story’ on Broadway: What did the critics think?


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‘West Side Story,’ the ‘Romeo & Juliet’ love story set on the gang-infused streets of New York, returned to Broadway on Thursday after a 29-year absence. With a book by Arthur Laurents, music by Leonard Bernstein and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, ‘West Side Story’ in its latest incarnation features dialogue and songs in Spanish (courtesy of Lin-Manuel Miranda of ‘In The Heights’).

The show revolves around doomed lovers Tony and Maria, caught in the middle of a clash between the Jets, a self-styled Anglo gang, and the Sharks, a Puerto Rican gang. The 1957 musical, which was made into a film in 1961 starring Natalie Wood, Richard Beymer and Rita Moreno, features such classic songs as ‘Tonight,’ ‘Somewhere’ and ‘I Feel Pretty.’


The revival, staged by 91-year-old Laurents, features Matt Cavenaugh as Tony and newcomer Josefina Scaglione as Maria, with Karen Olivo playing the fiery Anita.

What did the critics think? Keep reading below.

-- Lisa Fung

‘Mr. Laurents has exchanged insolence for innocence and, as with most such bargains, there are dividends and losses. The best news is how newly credible and affecting the show’s central love story becomes in this context,’ writes Ben Brantley of the New York Times, calling the bilingual aspects a ‘partly successful experiment.’

Charles McNulty of the Los Angeles Times says: ‘Certainly, the extraordinary variety and operatic fullness of Leonard Bernstein’s score goes a long way toward covering up the directorial fumbling of crucial emotional events (including the rushed, clumsily staged final scene). And the bright wattage of Stephen Sondheim’s lyrics alert us to depths overlooked by the actors.’

David Rooney of Variety disagrees, writing: ‘It’s rewarding to report that after nearly three decades’ absence from Broadway, this masterwork has been given the revival it deserves. Under the knowing direction of Arthur Laurents, the 1957 show remains both a brilliant evocation of its period and a timeless tragedy of disharmony and hate.’

Joe Dziemianowicz of the New York Daily News heaps on the praise for the women in the cast, writing: ‘It’s the girls who rule in this uneven new Broadway production of ‘West Side Story,’ which manages only intermittently to take us ‘somewhere’ special.

Michael Kuchwara of the Associated Press writes that the production ‘seems a little sketchy and slow, even with some surprising innovations. And its emotional impact is oddly muted.’


Calling it an ‘uneven but enjoyable revival,’ Melissa Rose Bernardo of Entertainment Weekly concurs with Dziemianowicz, saying ‘whenever Scaglione or Olivo are on stage the show kicks into gear.’

Chris Jones of the Chicago Tribune calls this a ‘mostly successful revival.’ ‘It retains the heart, soul and original moves and sounds of a theatrical masterpiece.... And yet this new production also radically updates and rejuvenates the show’s social milieu.’

An unimpressed Terry Teachout of the Wall Street Journal complains that the Spanish-language idea ‘comes across as a gimmick’ and ‘Mr. Laurents’s down-and-dirty approach might have been made to work if he’d scrapped Robbins’s dances and had the whole show rechoreographed from scratch. Even so, he would have had to reckon with the blandness of his stars.’

Elysa Gardner of USA Today writes that ‘the translations can seem gratuitous and at times patronizing.’

‘’West Side Story’ is neither revelation nor vandalism,’ Linda Winer of Newsday says. ‘Except for the statuesque Karen Olivo as a spectacular space-eating Anita, the casting is just all right.’

Ed Pilkington of The Guardian takes issue with the casting, saying: ‘A bilingual libretto -- what a fine and clever idea. But no amount of clever ideas can make up for a lack of chemistry between the star-crossed lovers.’

‘The idea that a musical as brilliant as ‘West Side Story’ would require reinventing seems a bit dubious, and the doubts are confirmed by the new Broadway revival,’ writes Frank Scheck of the Hollywood Reporter.

John Simon of Bloomberg News loves the revival: ‘Next to the original production, this one, over half a century later, will prove by far the best revival any of us will get in our lifetime. See it and cherish it.’

Top photo: Josefina Scaglione and Matt Cavanaugh. Middle photo: Cody Green, center, as Riff. Bottom photo: Karen Olivo, center, and the women of ‘West Side Story.’ Credit: Joan Marcus