Review | West Side Story: a lovely production of a true American classic

At the GuthrieTheater, through August 26

Ensemble in WEST SIDE STORY. Photo by T Charles Erickson.

West Side Story (at the Guthrie, through Aug 26) was first produced on Broadway in 1957 and since then it has emphatically entered the international canon, averaging 5,000 productions per year. No other play has this kind of presence. Shakespeare? Maybe (and it’s no accident that West Side Story is roughly based on Romeo And Juliet). The story of the gangs the Jets and the Sharks (“Let’s have a rumble!”), of Tony and Maria’s soaringly forbidden (and doomed) love, the ineffectual efforts of the gangs to make T and M toe the ethnic line have become a permanent part of human culture. WSS marches on, and it always will.

And why not. West Side Story is beyond brilliant. Three of the four creators – Arthur Laurents (book), Jerome Robbins (choreography and original “conception”), Leonard Bernstein (music) – are no longer with us. Only the incomparable Stephen Sondheim remains, a national treasure if there ever was one. The story is beautifully simple. And every song is a classic: “Something’s Coming,” “Maria,” “Tonight,” “Gee, Officer Krupke,” and I’ll stop here.

Perfection does not always obtain. WSS would, imo, have been better in a single act. Do we really need all those Jets/Sharks anger dances, brilliantly Robbinsesque as they are? “Gee, Officer Krupke” is huge fun, but does it drive the story? WSS harkens back to a different, and arguably more innocent era. Nowadays no one would care about Tony and Maria. Probably. But otoh, rumbles-under-the-highway have been replaced by drive-by shootings. In 2018, every Jet and every Shark would be dead.

But enough of this nonsense.

The performances. This is the Guthrie Theater and I’m not going to waste my (or your) time waxing enthusiastic about everyone. Suffice it to say that the performers are, to a person, fab.

As Tony and Maria, Marc Koeck and Mia Pinero do sweet, yet utterly energized work. Koeck starts slow (I found “Something’s Coming” to be a touch “soft”). But then he becomes truly wonderful. Koeck has a clumsy, slightly goofy presence, and a unique voice. He gives us a Tony such as we’ve never seen before. Pinero combines operatic power with an attentuated feeling for Maria’s rebelliousness. Her “I Feel Pretty” is a marvel. Brava. As Doc, Raye Birk is an affecting personification of sanity, as the story spins into madness.

West Side Story is a true American classic, and here’s your chance to see with the full Guthrie treatment. Seize it.

Also, the a/c at the G is lovely.

John Olive is a writer living in Minneapolis. His book, Tell Me A Story In The Dark, about the magic of bedtime stories, has been published. John’s The Voice Of The Prairie has been performed 100 plus times and ditto Minnesota Moon and his adaptation of Sideways Stories From Wayside School. Please visit John’s informational website.



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