Nov. 9 2011 12:00 AM

Touring cast freshens up classic ’West Side Story’

Translating Stephen Sondheim lyrics into Spanish sounds
like an experiment destined to end in disaster. But, for the most part,
the slightly revised “West Side Story” at Wharton Center works
extremely well, even though the show ultimately clicks because of the
way it honors the original material, not because of the tweaking.

If you haven’t seen “Story” lately, you
may be slightly taken aback by how timely (or timeless) it seems.
Thankfully, director David Saint and his team haven’t attempted to
bring the tale of Tony and Maria into the present-day: The dialogue is
still full of “daddy-o”s, “buddy boy”s and lines like, “You better dig
this — and dig it the most” that make it clear we’re in late-1950s New

Even so, in a time when politicians continue to vilify
those “outsiders” who have slipped into America, the vicious jabs —
both verbal and physical — between the native New Yorker Jets and the
Puerto Rican Sharks seem sadly of-the-moment. 

Of course, part of the enduring appeal of “Story” stems
from its connection to “Romeo and Juliet.” Much of the rest comes from
the sublime score that blends Sondheim’s lyrics with Leonard
Bernstein’s magnificent, near-operatic melodies, and the vigorous,
kinetic choreography originally devised by Jerome Robbins and
painstakingly preserved here by Joey McKneely.

To carry off “Story,” a director needs a cast full of
“triple-threats,” performers who excel as actors, singers and dancers,
and Saint has a bumper crop of prime talent. As Tony, Ross Lekites
shows off a tenor that wraps every syllable in velvet, yet he’s equally
adept at belting when it’s required. Although Evy Ortiz’s Maria may
look tiny and fragile, she is never less than completely in command of
those crystalline high notes, which makes her renditions of “I Have a
Love” and “Tonight” both heart-meltingly pretty and passionate.

The magnetic Drew Foster effortlessly commands the stage
and moves like a sinuous serpent as Riff, while Lori Ann Ferrari’s
earthy Anita turns her multi-colored skirts into a Technicolor tornado.
As the tomboyish Anybodys, Alexandra Frohlinger’s flute-like soprano
sends “Somewhere” gently into the stratosphere.

As for those Spanish lyrics, sometimes
they add an unusual angle to the songs (as in “I Feel Pretty”), and at
other points they’re more of a distraction than an enhancement. In the
end, “Story” remains what it has always been: brilliant and tragic and
beautiful. This company demonstrates why the musical will never go out
of style.

’West Side Story’

Wharton Center

p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 9, and Thursday, Nov. 10; 8 p.m. Friday, Nov. 11;
2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 12; 1 and 6:30 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 13