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'West Side Story' should be seen by all Toledoans

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West Side Story (National Tour)

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The Broadway revival of “West Side Story” breathed new life into this classic musical which opened Thursday for a four day run at the Stranahan Theater. The revival makes a few tweaks to the 1957 original, but the themes, the dancing, and the songs are as timely as ever. If Thursday’s performance is an indicator of how great the other performances will be this weekend, Toledo audiences should enjoy the show.

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This new version stars Jarrad Biron Green and MaryJoanna Grisso as the star-crossed lovers Tony and Maria. This is Green’s first tour on the revival of the musical. The twenty-one year old may be new to “West Side Story” but he sings and acts like a veteran. He received a well deserved round of applause after he sang the song “Maria” in the first act. Also joining the cast this year were Michael Spencer Smith (Bernardo) and Benjamin Dallas Redding (Riff).

This is Grisso’s second year of playing Maria in the revival tour, and according to her website, maryjoannagrisso.com, she is no stranger to the theater. The beautiful, petite soprano has been in nearly a dozen shows including regional work as well as a performance in New York where played Coleen in the show “Kingdom Come” at the New York Theater Barn. Grisso’s superb soprano voice was featured in “I Feel Pretty” to open the second act. Along with Green, the duo provided perfect performances of classic songs such as “Tonight”, “One Hand, One Heart” and “Somewhere”.

Michelle Alves also returned to “West Side Story” for a second year. She plays Anita, and her best moment of the night was her bold performance of “America”. The website of Alves documents how she spent 12 years as a professional dancer working with acts like The Black Eyed Peas, Nelly Furtado and Ricky Martin before coming to New York to focus on her acting. Her training and experience were used well in the choreography of “West Side Story”.

The few changes made to this revised version of the story were barely noticeable. Director David Saint wanted the gangs to appear tougher so some of the coy musical comedy theatre jargon of the ’50s was removed. In its place, the director decided to have the Puerto Rican gang, the Sharks, use more of its native language when speaking in the musical. The most obvious use of the Spanish language came in Grisso’s song, “I Feel Pretty” or “Me Siento Hermosa”.

The only objectionable change to the show came in the second act. The Jets and their new leader Action sing “Gee, Officer Krupke”, a song in which the gang mocks a police officer. Action uses the police officer’s club as a phallic symbol, and he acts like he is masturbating with it. Did this make the show more contemporary? No, it only made it more juvenile.

However, this show is definitely worth the money and time to see it. Even if you have seen the musical or movie before, you should see this revival of “West Side Story” before it leaves Toledo. The sets are amazing, the choreography is action packed, and the singing is splendid.

Tickets are still available for tonight’s show and Sunday’s two shows. For show times and ticket information, see the Stranahan Theater website.

“West Side Story” will be the last production presented by the Theater League's Broadway in Toledo Series for the 2013-2014 season. The Stranahan Theater has recently presented other Broadway shows such as “Million Dollar Quartet,” “Rock of Ages” and “American Idiot.” The theater will soon announce the schedule for the 2014-15 Broadway in Toledo Series.

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