Wednesday, October 25, 2006

West Side Story

Portland Center Stage
October 24, 2006; closes November 12, 2006

Forget Sharks, Jets; this is guys vs. girls, and the women — led by outstanding vocals of Carey Brown, Ivette Sosa; high-energy shennanigans of Amy Palomino — own theatre’s comfy new turf hands-down. PCS, production on-track; splitting hairs: not until second act did soaring score’s innate adrenaline feel truly dangerous. Technically solid.


David said...

There was no one thing in this show that I recognized as disappointing--except perhaps Tony, who I just didn't buy--but the whole was definitely less than the sum of its parts. It lacked passion, yes, but danger, even more. The most telling moment, for me, was the rape scene, which was far too tame. I didn't feel the terror and rage of it.

A note about the local boys, though: Danny Bruno and Andrew Hicks did their jobs well. It's the cleanest performance I've seen by Hicks in a while.

JM said...

I've heard it said that Amy Palomino "is" Anybody's. . . well that is plain wrong. Anyone who has been around her knows that she is not playing to her own type at all, and it takes away from her performance to say that she somehow already is the character.

Is she perfect for the role? Yes! But that is because she is a damn fine performer - not because she is diminutive and happens to have short hair. The energy and magnetism she exudes on stage is natural, yes - in that it is honest and organic. . . but don't be fooled - it is practiced and perfected through commitment and hard, hard work. This is a performer whose commitment to her craft and her colleagues is without parallel. Amy is the hardest working performer I've been around, hands down - and though she makes it look easy, she is working her tail off every single second out there - to marvelous results. (Not to mention serving as dance cap/asst to the choreographer - so she's trouble shooting, putting out fires, and learning 20 dance tracks aside from her own.)

If I sound superlative and gushing, it is only because it is well deserved - and I want folks to know that she is not just a peppy, bottled entity that is let loose to rumpus around the stage - she is far more deliberate and meticulous than that.

She's also a fantastic human being, deserving of every bit of what I've said here and more. . . and an asset to Portland theatre.

Sorry to take this forum to single out one person - maybe it's not th ebest time or place - and for that I do apologize and thank you for indulging me. . . but I do feel it's important - Amy gets a lot of well-deserved credit for her vibrancy and charm - and not enough for the careful and tireless artist that she is.

Anonymous said...

here are some comments on WSS that were posted back in OCT before the offical thread began:
Anonymous said...
This is a very fine production of a classic musical. The acting,
singing and dancing are all very high caliber. The orchestra, while about half in number of what the show is scored for, acquits itself admirably. They are also however, one of the shows detractions. Used as a bold Brechtian alienation device, the orchestra (including conductor Rick Lewis' Bernstein like locks) are well lit throughout the show, and because they perched in full view on a mezzanine behind the
action, we are always privy to every downbeat; every retard.
Inexplicably, they are lit boldly and differently for every scene,
which simply exacerbates the focus problem.
Another quibble is with the numerous and transparently double cast roles, done no doubt to save money -- afterall, they are still
$9 million short on the note for their new digs.
Amy Palomino (a local treasure) is Anybody's. Intense and on the mark, she deserves her own
vehicle at PCS.
And Anderson Davis is a formidable Tony -- one of the most notoriously difficult and thankless roles in the American Musical Theatre Canon.
As for the $60 ticket price, consider it a donation to the building fund.

10/14/2006 12:29:45 AM
Anonymous said...
now that we are on the topic of the new pcs digs, here's a first timer's impression.
the whole enterprise feels cramped a bit --- small lobby and balcony --- the appointments are a bit spartan. the studio theatre is the size of a classroom. contrary to rumor, the main stage
acoustics are splendid -- it's a theatre -- seats, a stage, some lights -- you can see and hear just as you should.
the most notable thing about the place is its environmentally friendly construction and operation. while the sidewalk is not done, and the price seems absurd ($36.1 million according to published reports) all in all its a good thing. pcs now has the container --- what they fill it with is the key to the future of big budget theatre in our town.
to quote the current production:
"go man go"


10/14/2006 11:10:11 AM
Anonymous said...
speaking of WEST SIDE STORY: yeah, anonymous -- what was with the orhestra as a supporting chracter thing? not only are they lit, but in many scenes, actors are staged up on the mezzanine with them pulling even more focus up there. yikes. rick lewis could have drawn 2 paychecks as conductor and actor.
and what was with those shopping carts?
and check out this logic: let's move to a smaller theatre and then
Nice work.

10/19/2006 05:21:52 PM
Anonymous said...

Me too. Saw it last night. Kind of liked the orchestra onstage, because for me Bernstein's score is the heart and soul of this show. Orchestra's presence didn't bother me much, but its stripped-dwn size and sound (and a few missteps -- not many, and the singers occasionally made it extra challenging for them with shaky entrances) did a bit.

Tracy said...

I enjoyed the production, but found the casting of the males -- esp. the thankless role of Tony -- to be just off somehow. In Tony's case, he just seemed so Midwest wholesome that I never believed for a second he ran a gang. Not that the prancing of the Jets (or the Sharks for that matter) seemed like that much of a threat. Where was the testosterone? The "terror and rage" as David put it ...

For me, that was a very key element that was missing from an otherwise very satisfactory production.

qk said...

I've been out of town for a while and it feels like in my absence Portland has really stepped it up a notch! What a fantastic show to open this beautiful new theater! Dancing, singing, acting, costumes, set, orchestra all top-of-the-line. I honestly can't think of a legitimate complaint. Others mention lack of passion or emotion, but I guess I just must have seen them on a good day, I felt the exact opposite!

Anonymous said...

Remember when we were discussing whether or not this show was even relevant to contemporary audiences?

I think anyone who saw this production has to agree it was a good choice for the Gerding, for PCS, for artists and for the audience.


Anonymous said...

I will say this: the production felt a little sparse.

Can you imagine what how it might have seemed in the Newmark?

Anonymous said...

If anonymous 04:12:29 PM thinks that the status quo is a good choice for the Gerding, for PCS, for artists and for the audience, then good on ya'.

Different space, more of the same.

Anonymous said...

I was kinda hoping some more discussion would come up on this.

There's a very interesting critical piece someone COULD write.

Would be interested to hear the relevance case made again. It did not feel relevant to me.

AND even if you are ok with it not being relevant and just wanted to indulge a nostalgic favorite (nothing wrong with that) the music wasn't there.

Would rather see OBT do this with a full orchestra in the Keller. The tunes must crank. Instead, it was mild. Get the 1961 soundtrack and listen to it loud with some headphones on. THAT is what should be there in a big production.

In one review or another, Oregonian hit on a good point that in many of its shows this year, PCS is following along with the national herd theatrically - not providing the hip, vanguard leadership we associate with the real Portland.

I think I AM MY OWN WIFE is like the most produced show nationally this year. FENCES and THE PILLOWMAN not far behind. See recent TCG listing.

What is distinctively Northwest about PCS's season? Anything? Are there any local cues being taken from our area? Or could we be anywhere? Where's that particular sense of place - the foundation of the Portland aesthetic.

WSS was needed to fill the house and get things going, which it did. We should be able to admit that but also acknowledge it's not very relevant. It's entertainment. Let's not try to pretend this represented serious artistic furrowing of brows to come up with this choice.

Sometimes we drop our critical guard when something is too close to home. But if a new Portland building, restaurant, rock band, or urban plan came out that was the equivalent of showing WSS story, would we really have to scratch our heads and debate whether it was contemporary? Or would we spot it for what it is?

A friend who saw it said something funny:

"'I Like to Be in America'? I mean come on, we're all embarrassed to be Americans now!"

I readily agreed. This one just feels like a time warp now - a taste from a simpler time - an escape.

Could there be a contemporary play about immigration, urban conflict etc.? Absolutely. But this isn't it.

Anonymous said...

Mild indeed. Perfect word for it.

Neal said...

Interested in your comments Anon 05:38:53, you should come up with a moniker so we can more readily pick you out of the static in the future.

Mariaaaa said...

I absolutely agree with 5:38 anonymous. I was really surprised at the rave reviews I read of WSS, because the night I saw it I was so underwhelmed I left at intermission. I just couldn't handle another hour or more of boredom. And I love WSS, I love Leonard Bernstein! I wasn't expecting relevance or cutting edge theatricality, I had resigned myself to that, but at least blast me away with the music, get me caught up in the melodrama. I used to put this album on when I was seventeen (and no one else was home) and dance through the house, and my mom and her sister still sing songs exclusively from WSS whenever they get together and are washing dishes together after dinner. So it's got a time warped, quaint but undeniable power, and I was disappointed to see PCS stage it in such a listless, safe way. You can't stage musicals safely, conservatively! Stage an Agatha Christie play if that's how you're going to do it! What it said to me is that PCS is willing to do just enough work to get people in the door, and only that. Maybe I'm asking too much, but I think you can still take risks within the realm of traditional american theatre. What saddens and bothers me about the theatre community, here and elsewhere in America, is this acceptance of sub-par work and dwindling audiences as the norm, paired with desperate stabs at "relevance" which are perceived by most as just that. Or, something does strike a chord, and so 499 regional theatres are all copying it. Arghh, that's enough grumbling and ranting from me, I'm just copying what anonymous said, what do I know.

Dan said...

I don't think there's anything wrong with 499 regional theatres doing the same show in a one or two season span. Obviously when a work is damn fine and damn relevant enough to want a wider audience, it's difficult to get everyone possible to see the one production of it. If it's a play that needs to be seen by millions, like I am My Own Wife and Pillowman at PCS this season, then it simply must play at all the regional houses it can so that all audiences in all regions have the chance to see the important work. I think calling the choice of play that many regional theatres do "unoriginal" and "safe" is seriously undermining the importance of that piece and that playwright and the magnitude of the message that needs to be spread wide across the country. Pillowman is a serious risk for PCS's subscriber base and just because every other regional theatre is doing it, doesn't mean that Portland audiences do not deserve to see it.

Anonymous said...

When I saw this show on opening weekend, I chalked the total lack of passion between Tony and Maria up to early jitters. Did those of you who saw the show later in the run notice any improvement? Were they at least looking at each other?

Dagger said...

Not so much ... and the boys were pretty light in the loafers even for dancers. Didn't really feel too threatening.

Mariaaa said...

I don't mean to suggest that all traditional plays picked up by regional theatres are inherently safe. What I'm saying, in fact, is that operating within this realm, you can still take risks, and I think it's great when theatres in town do this by staging plays like Pillowman. But I do think the excitement and originality is lost when regional theatres are just blindly picking up what was hot in New York a year or two ago. It's a fine line and I'm not suggesting there's a simple step to crossing or not crossing it. Obviously, there's more risk to PCS choosing I Am My Own Wife than West Side Story. And it sounds like that show is superb, and I hope it does well, and it can still be risky no matter how successful it is or has been, and people here "deserve" to see it. But: it is a different energy than when that show first opened in New York, and surprised everyone. There is a different energy to new scripts and new work. That is what, personally, interests me most, and what I think would move theatre into a more vital place here in the northwest and in other regions. But yes, that doesn't mean that theatres doing already performed scripts can't do something risky with it, or that there is no value involved in doing it HERE for the first time. There are many ways to make great art and I don't pretend to know the One Great Way.

Anonymous said...

Absolutely agree with the new work bent.

That could be one of Oregon's most precious artistic exports.

Is it easy? Of course not. But this should be the ultimate goal someone is shooting for. It needs to be nurtured and supported.

An authentic regional theater voice coming out of the Pacific Northwest.

There is a gaping hole just sitting there waiting for a great PNW playwright. Where is our David Edgar, our August Wilson, our Paula Vogel, our Tracy Letts, our Martin McDonagh?

Why does OSF have to commission a British playwright to write a west coast epic?!

Who will tell our stories? Who will create the works that leave an audience thinking - "Only in Oregon." Who will create the works that every Oregonian reads?

Who can craft the tale that is so incredible and yet believable it could only happen here?

Who can evoke on stage what the history and current reality of this soggy, misty, funky legendary land was and is? Think global, write local. And the world will be your oyster, mein comrades.

Huge, huge, MASSIVE opportunity sitting here for a writer. Write the play, submit to Third Rail, and lets get this party started!

Time is ripe.

Ben Waterhouse said...

I Am My Own Wife was hardly a risk on Chris Coleman's part. Anything with Wade McCollum is likely to do well, and this show, with all the publicity it's gotten across the country, is sold out through December 7. Not that it doesn't merit the attention--I've seen few finer productions in Portland. Definitely a step up from WSS.

Neal said...

First of all, Third Rail IS going to mount the premiere production of a PNW playwright this year with Number Three by Ebbe Roe Smith, second of all, chances are, and history plays out, that a playwright that starts out with some success in the Northwest quickly moves away and becomes involved in the film and television industry. And, while some of those writers do dabble with the odd production at ART or ACT, that suggests they didn't find the home they were looking for here.

Anonymous said...

Or maybe the home, but not the living? There are a fair number of creators who made it (reasonably) big down south and then moved here (or back here), from Peter West to Fred Walton.

Anonymous said...

We have (and had have) good playwrights in Portland, and the interest in new plays has continued, though it waxes and wanes as the economy fluctuates and theatre practitioners come and go. When the economy's good, theatres seem willing to take a risk on a new script; when it's shaky, they stick to more reliable stuff. New folks also come into the theatre community all full of energy, produce for awhile, and then begin to lose altitude or direction, or groups split up, move on. It's all kind of the life cycle of the process.

Right now, we have a number of script development programs going in town, and that's healthy, but the Equity houses are still going to rely on the regional circuit plays because they have some serious bills to pay. And losing Stark means losing the one theatre who's entire mission was producing new plays. There's certainly a vacumn there if someone wants to take it on. (Though it's only worked 18 years for Stark Raving, those crazy flash-in-the-pan upstarts.)

Also, just my opinion, but I don't think the Northwest is really suited for a "Northwest voice" simply because the character of the region is idiosyncratic. When you think of great Northwest novelists, for example, they're more distinguished by their differences than their commonalities. The "Keep Portland Weird" slogan presupposes that Portland is already weird, and that probably is doubly true for our writers because, face it, writers tend to be, uh, freaks.

In a good way.

Anonymous said...

"(Though it's only worked 18 years for Stark Raving, those crazy flash-in-the-pan upstarts.)"

Only 5 of their 18 years were new plays. However, to survive for 18 years in this town is truly a feat.

Anonymous said...

"Only 5 of their 18 years were new plays. However, to survive for 18 years in this town is truly a feat."

True, but I don't think they put out a single season where they didn't break at least one new play (though I could be wrong about that too), plus they introduced New Rave.

Anonymous said...

Ok, who are your favorite Northwestern playwrights, living or dead?

Anonymous said...

All northwest playwrights are, of course, brilliant, witty, wise, and have great hearts full of courage and boundless empathy. They are, in short, true saints and leave behind footprints of pure glitter.

In other words, forget it: ain't goin' there.

Anonymous said...

I can't even think of one.

While names of famous Oregon novelists, poets and non fiction writers come readily to mind, when it comes to playwrights, I draw a blank.

Or am I just uninformed?

Name one Oregon playwright from post war (WWII) period whose name would be familiar to educated theatre goers around the country.

Anonymous said...

Steven Dietz (of Seattle), Tad Savinar ("Talk Radio"), and Charles Deemer come to mind, but it's kind of a silly question. We have, for example, a good number of really talented actors, directors, and designers in Portland, and far too few of them are known outside Portland.