Chicago’s Oriental Theatre: “West Side Story”

With report cards on the way, the non-Equity touring company of “West Side Story” made its way through a C- opening night performance in Chicago.

And a generous C- at that.

Compared to recent local musical-theater classic treats “Oklahoma!” (Lyric Opera) , “Oliver!” (Drury Lane)  and “South Pacific” (Marriott Lincolnshire), “West Side” offers decent summer stock quality at big city ticket prices. This production is the latest Broadway in Chicago offering that should have patrons and producers thinking twice about the “Broadway” brand outside New York City.

The musical chronicle of the Tony and Maria love affair, two opposing members of a 1950s New York cultural (and gang) war is among America’s most beloved. This work of four theatrical legends—Arthur Laurents (book), Leonard Bernstein (music), Stephen Sondheim (lyrics) and  Jerome Robbins (choreography) opened on Broadway in 1957 and has played “Somewhere” ever since. In addition, “America,” “Tonight,” “Maria,” and “I Feel Pretty” add to the well-known songbook. The show’s full synopsis and history may be found HERE.

The best thing this production offers is youthful exuberance from a 30-plus member cast representing many of the nation’s collegiate musical-theater and vocal performance programs. That’s most clearly displayed in the powerful dance numbers using the original Robbins choreography, especially by the Puerto Rican ladies’ in “America.”

Of particular note in this ensemble is Maryjoanna Grisso, who plays heroine Maria for all the character’s innocence, fear and passion. While an overall pall of mere adequacy permeates the rest of the production, Grisso establishes herself as a budding star.

To one observer, the choice of Addison Reid Coe as the Tony to complement Grisso’s Maria is a miscast. It’s no fault of the talented Coe, but he looks more Seamus than Tony, and his tall, slender frame dwarfs the petite Grisso, creating an awkward-looking pair.

That’s all right for well-sung and acted community theater at $20 a pop. But choices like this combined with underwhelming travelling sets and not-good-enough sound quality (even from fifth row, center) can leave Chicagoland theater aficionados feeling very “second city.”

And for that, Broadway in Chicago should be alarmed.

“West Side Story” runs through June 16 at the Oriental Theatre, 24 W. Randolph Street, Chicago. Tickets range from $18 to $105, plus fees. More information is available at Broadway In Chicago’s website.



barry-reszel-writers-photoBarry Reszel is a Libertyville-based writer, at-home dad and executive director of the not-for-profit entertainment company Liberty Town Productions.