Friday, February 18, 2011

A Fresh Look at west Side Story

“West Side Story’ Finds a New Voice from an Old Source

By Skip Sheffield

As written, “West Side Story” is frozen in the amber of a bygone era of the mid-50s in New York City.
One the other hand the much-beloved musical revival that plays through Feb. 27 at Broward Center is a timeless love story borrowed freely from Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” and updated with some new twists.
The national touring production in residence in Fort Lauderdale is both old and new.
Arthur Laurents, the original librettist (with composer Leonard Bernstein and lyricist Stephen Sondheim) rewrote parts of the dialogue and lyrics in Spanish to complement the original English.
Laurents should be considered a national treasure. He also directed the Broadway show that opened in March, 2009 and just closed in January of this year. The national tour is directed by David Saint, the Broadway associate director.
This is the third major revival of a record-breaking, boundary-breaking, multi-Tony Award-winning show that opened on Broadway in 1957. If you count the 1961 movie, this would make it the fourth.
The bilingual dialogue makes sense considering half the characters are Puerto Rican. Most of us, especially down here, are used to hearing Spanish.
The original Jerome Robbins choreography has been restaged and in subtle ways re-envisioned by Joey McKneeley (“The Boy From Oz”).
As a result this “West Side Story” takes a fresh look at a musical theater classic more than 50 years old.
In the Romeo role of Tony is Kyle Harris, who is in a world terrific. I didn’t get to see Larry Kert in the original, but vocally Harris is the strongest Tony I’ve seen. Dramatically, as the smitten, conflicted leader of the Anglo gang The Jets, though a bit pretty, Harris is sufficiently believable as a romantic tough guy.
In the Juliet role of Maria is Ali Ewoldt, a lovely, delicate soprano who thrills the most when she is hitting operatic high notes.
Anita, the fiery older sister of Maria, is played with passion and depth of conviction by Michelle Aravena. This is the spotlight-stealing role that made stars of both Chita Rivera in the original and Rita Moreno in the movie, and Aravena goes toe-to-toe with these theatrical legends.
Anita needs a strong Bernardo, and German Santiago is just that guy; the proud, fearless but fair leader of the Puerto Rican gang The Sharks.
There are other joys in the show: Joseph J. Simeone in the Tybalt role of Riff; Alexandra Frohlinger as the tomboy Anybodys, who stuns with a gorgeous soprano on the reprise of “Somewhere,” and the entire singing and dancing cast, backed by a small but rich orchestra.
There may be some naysayers who contend “This is not the West Side Story I know and love,” but I dissent. Musical theater is a living, breathing, growing thing, and this is proof there is a lot of life yet in this contemporary classic.
Tickets are $25-$69 and may be reserved by calling 954-462-0222 or by going to

Monday, February 14, 2011

Janiva Magness at Boston's

This appeared in Boca Raton Tribune last week, but I thought I would post it here for local FB friends. Janiva Magness is pretty special.

Speaking of Buddy Guy (who headlined the Garlic Festival in Delray Beach Saturday), he was the headliner at the very first Riverwalk Blues Festival in 1987. Back then the festival was held in the parking lot of the now-defunct Musicians Exchange.
Now the 22nd annual Riverwalk Blues Festival is set in the lovely Riverwalk area of Fort Lauderdale on the New River at Andrews Avenue Friday through Sunday. Music begins at 6:30 p.m. Friday with Big Poppa E and the E Band followed by Blues Dragon at 8:30 p.m. and the John Nemeth band at 10 p.m.
Big City Blues Band leads the action at 12:30 p.m. Saturday. Headliners are Janiva Magness at 6:30 p.m. and Robert Randolph and the Family Band at 8:30 p.m.
Gates open at 11 a.m. Sunday Headliners are Superchikan and the Fighting Cocks at 6:30 p.m. and Jimmy Thackery and the Drivers at 8:30 p.m.
There is a lot more than this going on. Go to the web site at www.riverwalkbluesfestival.homestead to check it out.

Singer Janiva Magness is also playing Boston’s in Delray Beach at 9 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 15 as part of Frank Ward’s Blue Tuesday.
Lovely Janiva is a real blues survivor of the suicide of both her parents when she was just 16; an early pregnancy and the trauma of giving her infant up for adoption and homelessness before she found her focus in the blues. She is now one of the shining stars at Alligator Records, the world’s largest blues label, having won the B.B. King Entertainer of the Year Blues Music Award in 2009. Her latest CD is “The Devil is an Angel Too.”
“I am very grateful,” said Magness in a telephone interview. “I feel like the luckiest woman in the world. I get to do what I love to do and it is transcendent. I feel we need live music more now than ever before.”
As with all Blue Tuesdays at Boston’s, admission is free.
I went down to Fort Lauderdale to see Janiva Saturday. I was not disappointed. Her band is drum-tight and red-hot, and Janiva is pretty hot herself. In fact she’s just about the hottest 54-year-old mama I’ve seen, and when it comes to blues, she’s the real deal. She has lived the life.