Sunday, May 31, 2009

West Side Story was disappointing

I hate to say that. We spent a lot of money on the tickets, $121 each for seven seats, and that was before the fees. And I think the show stands up all these years later. The music is outstanding and the orchestra was great. The dancing was very good. I liked the cast in this production, all except for Tony--one of our party said perhaps my objection was that he seemed very "American Idol," if you know what I mean, and I think that was accurate. American Idol in that he was too self-conscious, too commercial, he sang to the audience, you could watch him wanting to connect with the audience, and his singing was just plain, oh, icky. That's a technical term. Oh, and Lt. Shrank sounded like he was reading his lines. Bad actor, or miscast.

Still, our crowd liked it, and Lily really liked it, and I cried in the end. It's a nice piece of work, even though I do agree with Stephen Sondheim that the lyrics are pretty much awful. Krupke is okay. Not much else. And I kind of didn't get what they were doing with There's A Place for Us, which was sung by a boy standing with Tony and Maria, looking like he was supposed to be their son, while Sharks and Jets danced together, smiling, bathed in a warm light. Also the ending was odd: Only a couple of gang members showed up for Maria's big speech about the gun and how many bullets does it have. I wanted to see all the surviving members of both gangs, and their girls. It felt lonely.

Dave and Lily and I had seen Guys and Dolls on Broadway recently, and that got bad reviews. It was badly cast, the orchestration was bad, the set was appalling, the attempts at updating and adding were silly (Nathan Detroit runs a hotdog stand at the end, called Nathan's. Get it? Ugh), and it was just bad. We knew that, and wanted to see it anyway, wanted to show it to Lily, in my on-going effort to educate her about musicals and theater, and this is one of the great musicals in the world. Probably my most favorite ever.

But West Side Story! I thought it got good reviews, but maybe I'm wrong. What astonished me were the glaring technical mistakes, mostly the lights. Even Lily noticed. The lights were just wrong, and I don’t understand how, because all those cues are computerized. The person calling the show, usually the assistant stage manager, says things like, "electrics 47, warning," about 20 seconds before cue 47. About five seconds before she says, "electrics 47, stand by." Brief pause. "Go!" And the person on the light board hits a switch and the hundreds of appropriate lighting instruments do their thing, go stronger or fade or turn off or whatever, all at the appropriate time, a time that has been programmed in to the computers weeks ago.

But in this case, lights would randomly turn on and off and get brighter and dimmer, for no apparent reason except to distract the audience. The lights in the tenements, seen all through the balcony scene, for instance, flicked on and off. All of a sudden in the middle of a Tony and Maria scene, I forget which one, a big blast of blue hit them square on. During their wedding scene an ellipsoidal lighting instrument starts rotating right above us, really loudly. Additionally, the spotlight operator never seemed able to find his mark and would wander all over the stage. There were musicians in each of the boxes, and the one near us had a glaring music light that wasn’t gelled and it shone right into our eyes.

Other problems included several times singers who weren't keeping up with the orchestra. An understudy noticeably screwed up the lyrics to Officer Krupke. We had the matinee understudy syndrome, five or six were out, which I kind of get when the show's been around a while. But in this case it had just opened!

One of my great joys about going to live theater, especially something a splashy Broadway musical, is watching the best of the best do their job. The best lights, set, costumes, stage management, as well as actors, singers, and dancers. And that certainly disappointed this time. I am one of those out-of-towners now, the people who save their money for the big show, buy the tickets weeks in advance, drive into the city for the weekend, go out to eat, all that, and then really don't want to be disappointed. For the $75 TKTS Guys and Dolls, I wasn't so crushed. I knew what I was getting. But this! Very disappointing.


  1. oh, that's too bad. I really hate when I'm disappointed on a big-ticket item...

  2. I'm so sorry to hear that. It's one of my absolute favorite films/musicals and that just stinks!


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