l24159207410_3395west side story is a bit of a sacred cow for me, having seen it performed (quite literally) over a hundred times in at least half a dozen different venues.

but, someone is giving it a go and sending it back to broadway. it’s hard to revive a classic … each of us has waaay to many preconceived notions about how the production should go.

as with the original staging 40+ years ago, the out of town previews are here at the national threatre before the show heads to broadway in the spring.

first the good things:

they obviously cast the show based on the singing and the dancing, and both were top shelf through out. the orchestra was great, the sets and lights were good enough to move the story along but not so much to upstage the story.

did I mention the music and dancing were superb? the dance hall scene was perfection on a stick. (everything good is even better on a stick.)

but best of all, they didn’t screw with the show. the play wasnt set somewhere crazy like last year’s super bowl (the jets weren’t the giants, the sharks weren’t the patriots, and Eli manning wasn’t tom Brady’s star crossed lover.)

they also had an interesting language twist, in that much of the puerto ricans dialogue was spoken in Spanish and (more importantly) many of their songs were rewritten for the mother tongue as well, including show tune standard “Sesiento Hermosa” (“I Feel Pretty”).

fwiw, the linguistic face lift largely worked, boosting the show’s authenticity. i was skeptical, and i will say it felt forced in spots — mostly when there were too many Spanish words to smush into the English-paced music — but that could just be because I am white … and know every last syllable of the original production.

now time for the bad stuff:

they cast the show for singers and dancers. which means that precious few (past the very solid principles) could act their way out of a wet paper bag. there was at least one kid on the jets who i am sure started acting last Tuesday.

To make matters worse, there were a few scattered portions of the production that seemed to have no direction at all, which is disturbing considering it was directed by Arthur Laurents who crafted the original book.

two examples: the ode to officer krupke was basically sung at the audience, almost in a concert staging. there was none of the great repartee that i came to expect from the last 100+ productions.

then, in the quartet scene, anita sang her part (usually done in a négligée from her boudoir) from a highway overpass instead. she was still acting like she was in her bedroom, but the skimpy costume on an overpass shifts the meaning of “anita’s going to get her kicks tonight” to someplace I wasn’t prepared to go.

anyway, there were definitely a couple of places where i was biting my lip, but overall it was a solid production. maybe not a Broadway production (more on that later) but certainly a respectable regional production.

unfortunately, the two 40-something suburban house cows sitting behind us probably wouldn’t agree with such a rosy assessment … which was fine until they laughed their way through the whole death scene.

and by laughed, I mean cackled.

the started roaring with laughter when tony got shot. when maria was halfway through her soliloquy — the hardest scene in musical theater if you ask me — they were still kvetching. towards the end, I had finally had enough …

s.h.c. #1: “get your stuff ready. we’re going as soon as he kicks it for good.”

s.h.c. #2: “it can’t possible come fast enough!” more cackling.

me: turning around. “could you just leave now? leave. please.”

tony “kicks it” as it were. the cows get up to leave…

s.h.c. #1: to me … “next time, pick on someone your own size, you @$&#%.”

(oddly enough, she was my size, and then some.)

anyway, it was that kind of a night… which that makes me a *little* nervous about the show’s chances on broadway.

I know out of town previews are always dicey — and things will tighten up — but I’m worried about whether the show can make it with the type of cynical, over-stimulated audiences my house cow friends represent to me.

the staging wasn’t elaborate or expensive, and the show couldn’t have taken that anyway. there isn’t a big gimmick or hook. the book hasn’t been rewritten to tell the hidden story of chino’s childhood abuse by maria’s illegitimate father. enrique iglesias isn’t playing bernardo, and there is certainly no heart-wrenching robin Williams cameo as the lovable, but befuddled “doc.”

personally, these are all pluses in my book, but it’s not exactly following the new prototype of how to succeed in this brave new world of the great white way.

well, we shall see. for the show’s sake, i hope the cows won’t come home to roost.