Evergreen West Side Story Is Still Powerful

Sugar Land's German Santiago as Bernardo (center) in the Broadway touring production of West Side Story.
Sugar Land's German Santiago as Bernardo (center) in the Broadway touring production of West Side Story.
Joan Marcus

The Setup:The stage of the Hobby Center doesn't seem big enough to contain all the life that this classic show (1957) so vibrantly possesses. The powerful gangs of Jets and Sharks tear across the stage in Jerome Robbins's priceless choreography, propelled by Leonard Bernstein's most melodious score, while singing Stephen Sondheim's peerless lyrics.

The Execution: The fusion of all this miraculous talent (as well as the ingenious book by Arthur Laurents) is a musical piece of theater history that doesn't age and improves with the passing decades. Are new musicals so bereft of ideas, that this one keeps bowling us over with inventiveness and audacity, as if we've never seen such exceptional theatricality?

The Jets: the cast of West Side Story
The Jets: the cast of West Side Story
Joan Marcus

The bones of the show are so good, you might wish Laurents -- the director of this revival that opened on Broadway in 2009 and is now touring the U.S. -- had left it alone. To give it relevance and a little nip and tuck, some of the Shark scenes and a few verses of "I Feel Pretty" are in Spanish. The gist of what they're saying comes across in any language, whether you know the score or the scene or not, so the translation idea seems rather pointless. Anyway, it'd be a whole lot better if the actors concentrated on their English diction, which, when filtered through the ubiquitous sound amplification that is the bane of every show nowadays, comes across as garbled and soft. But these are minor annoyances to a show that is so powerful, otherwise. If you only know the musical from the movie, seeing it live is a special treat. The impressive cast knocks itself out with all the colorful, muscular dancing recreated from Robbins's masterpieces by Joey McKneely -- the gang members look appropriately dangerous and edgy -- and the leads (Kyle Harris as Tony, Ali Ewoldt as Maria, Michelle Aravena as Anita, German Santiago as Bernardo, Joseph Simeone as Riff) all find interesting angles to their characters to keep them fresh and intriguing.

The Verdict: The whole show is evergreen, a true classic of the American stage.

(Through January 23. Hobby Center, 800 Bagby, 713-315-2525.)

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