This week (as a sort of belated birthday present), I attended the new touring revival of West Side Story at the Orpheum. The conceit of this version is that it’s grittier and more authentic than the original, primarily through the extended use of Spanish by the Puerto Rican characters.
I thought the concept worked well as a whole, but that may have been because I was so familiar with the story and songs. Given that there were no translations made available, nor any supertitles, and that a few key plot points were in Spanish, I have to wonder if someone new to the show would be able to fully appreciate the story. However, after a day when the bilingual nature (in fact, trilingual, when you throw Chinese into the mix) of our city was on full display, with the highlighting of the Spanish-speaking announcers and players in the parade and celebration of Los Gigantes, the updated musical seemed a fitting close to the day. Of course, as someone who daily works in multiple languages, I’m always eager to see new displays of mixed language use.
I got another pleasant surprise when it turned out that one of the Jets was none other than Neil Haskell, of So You Think You Can Dance fame. It was a good thing, as I hadn’t realized just how much dancing there actually was in this musical (having only known it through the movie version). And dancing was certainly the highlight here; although, as often seems to happen in San Francisco, the rustle-tussle of the gang fighting took on new meaning. Unavoidably, given the small orchestra, Bernstein’s lovely music got short shrift, which was a disappointment. But, all in all, it was an enjoyable, if a bit overly dramatic, show.