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Bilingual 'West Side Story' opens in D.C.: What did the critics think?

January 9, 2009 | 10:18 am

'West Side Story'It was a homecoming of sorts for the musical "West Side Story." The Leonard Bernstein-Stephen Sondheim-Arthur Laurents classic, about star-crossed lovers caught in the war between the Jets and Sharks street gangs, opened Wednesday at the National Theatre in Washington, D.C. -- 52 years after the original premiered at the same venue in 1957.

In this highly anticipated revival of the musical, which features such familiar songs as "Tonight," "Somewhere" and "I Feel Pretty," the Puerto Rican characters sing and speak in Spanish (sorry, no supertitles).

The cast of more than 35 is led by Matt Cavenaugh, who appeared in "A Catered Affair," as Tony and Argentine actress Josefina Scaglione as Maria. The Broadway tryout continues its run in D.C. through Jan. 17, with a New York opening set for March 19.

What did the Washington-area critics have to say?

While calling "West Side Story" an "as-yet-uneven production," Peter Marks of the Washington Post saw much he liked, heaping praise on Scaglione, "whose portrayal of ill-starred Maria embodies all the tender feeling and earthier passion this Juliet of the barrio is meant to engender."

Paul Harris of Variety calls the musical a "sincere and energetic production that still dazzles with Jerome Robbins' riveting choreography and the landmark Bernstein-Sondheim score. It could be the perfect tonic for Broadway's economic blues." 

Though she had issues with the mix of modern aspects with the 1950s setting, Jayne Blanchard at the Washington Times gave the production three out of four stars. She praised the revival's "newfound naturalness and passion," and said "it was a stroke of genius on the part of director Arthur Laurents ... to have much of the dialogue and songs translated into Spanish."

Mary Carole McCauley of the Baltimore Sun said: "This production could move exactly as it is to the Great White Way tomorrow and be a success. If Laurents and his collaborators can fix a few problems in the second act, there will be no stopping it."

-- Lisa Fung

Photo: Josefina Scaglione and Matt Cavenaugh in "West Side Story." Credit: Joan Marcus

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