Broadway in Chicago’s “West Side Story” Dances Circles Around the Windy City

There is something about attending a Broadway musical …

The buzz of the crowd as they make their way into the luxe red velvet and gold gilded playhouse, the thrill of hearing the pit orchestra honk and whistle out notes of what’s to come. The anticipation is heightened when the production is the classic “West Side Story” at the Cadillac Palace Theatre.

On opening night, the curtain rose on a minimal James Youmans set that left plenty of space for the evergreen Jerome Robbins’ choreography to fill the stage. The dancing was the star of this revival, leaving audience members with a desire to high kick, leap and snap their way out of the theater.

As far as characters go, the Jets were the highlight of the evening as Riff, played by Joseph J. Simeone, out-danced and out-sang his fellow cast members, leading his gang and the plot through the first act of the show. Michelle Aravena’s “Anita” picked up where Simeone left off in the second act with strong acting chops.

The protagonists, Maria and Tony, were unconvincing both in their chemistry and talent. Ali Ewoldt plays Maria with an over-cooked Puerto Rican accent and hammed up sweetness, while Kyle Harris approaches Tony’s hallmark ballads with a little too much belt and vibrato.

The night’s biggest hit came midway through the second act when the agitated Jets sing “Gee, Officer Krupke,” complete with demonstrative dance moves and lewd gestures. The comic relief was clearly necessary, as the crowd offered cheers and rousing applause when the number came to a close.

Though a few more triple-threat players would push this touring production to the next level, witnessing the extraordinary spectacle that has been captivating audiences since 1957 is well worth the trip downtown.

The production runs Tuesday-Sunday through Aug. 14. Visit broadwayinchicago.com for tickets.