SF Symphony soars through magnificent West Side Story

Jun 28

SF Symphony soars through magnificent <i>West Side Story</i>

It's hard to imagine but it's true: the music is so glorious you barely even miss the dancing. The San Francisco Symphony concludes its season with the first concert presentation of the full score for West Side Story, and it's simply mind blowing. For the original 1957 production, composer Leonard Bernstein apparently made concessions in the orchestrations based on what was available to him at the Winter Garden Theatre. Then, when the chance came along to re-orchestrate for the movie in 1961, orchestrators Sid Ramin and Irwin Kostal (under Bernstein's supervision) went big but perhaps too big. According to Symphony program notes, Bernstein then worried that the work had become "overblown and unsubtle."

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Lopez family aims high in TheatreWorks’ Somewhere

Jan 29

Lopez family aims high in TheatreWorks’ <i>Somewhere</i>

In my interview with Priscilla Lopez (see below for the link), the original Diana Morales in the landmark production of A Chorus Line, she calls Somewhere, the play written by her nephew Matthew Lopez now at TheatreWorks, a "dance-ical," meaning not a play exactly, not a musical exactly but a drama infused with dance. That's a great way to describe the show, which features a number of dance sequences.

I reviewed Somewhere for the Palo Alto Weekly. Here's an excerpt...

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Lovely as ever, Rita Moreno tells her tale

Sep 08

Lovely as ever, Rita Moreno tells her tale

She’s charming and gorgeous. Vivacious and soulful. In short, Rita Moreno is the perfect candidate for an autobiographical show.

Rita Moreno: Life Without Makeup is not yet the perfect show for this legendary performer, but it provides a snazzy opening to the Berkeley Repertory Theatre season.

Written by Berkeley Rep Artistic Director Tony Taccone and directed by David Galligan,, the show is at its best when Moreno is taking us through the ups and mostly downs of her storied career. Act 1 is a chronological narrative, beginning with a 5-year-old Rosa Dolores Alverío boarding a ship in 1936 to take them from Puerto Rico to a new life in New York.

From her first meeting with Louis B. Mayer at age 16, Moreno was catapulted from life in the barrio to the world of hardscrabble glamour as a Hollywood starlet who, it’s interesting to note, could have chose the screen name Mitzi Margarita.

What’s so interesting about Moreno’s story is that throughout her career, she was fighting stereotype.

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Chita’s jazz…and all that

Nov 06

Chita’s jazz…and all that

Last night I fell in love with a 77-year-old Broadway legend.

Actually, I started with a giant crush that developed during a recent phone interview with Chita Rivera (read the story in the San Francisco Chronicle here), and then that crush fell off the deep end when I saw her in person at the recently re-opened Venetian Room in the Fairmont Hotel as part of the Bay Area Cabaret series.

About 13 years ago, when I was the new theater guy at the Oakland Tribune/ANG Newspapers, I had the chance to interview Rivera in person at the Clift Hotel. She was launching a Broadway-bound autobiographical show called Chita and All That Jazz. On my way to the interview, I passed a flower stand, and on impulse, I bought her a gardenia. I knew that's not what a seasoned professional would do, and my purpose wasn't to butter her up – it was more about honoring her extraordinary career. To arrive empty handed felt like...not enough. When I sat down with her and gave her the flower, her eyes welled up, and the interview was wonderful. I got a big hug at the end, and I was happy.

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West Side represent!

Oct 28

<i>West Side</i> represent!

To quote one of the Jets, “Dig this and dig it the most.” The most compelling drama at Wednesday’s opening of West Side Story wasn’t happening on the stage of the Orpheum Theatre. It was a few blocks away at the giant theater known as AT&T Park, where the Giants were routing the Texas Rangers in Game 1 of the World Series.

The Orpheum stage crew thoughtfully announced the score before the show started and then shared the news of the Giants’ win before the show resumed after intermission.

The Giants delivered an impressive score Wednesday night, and so did West Side Story. Under the baton of John O’Neill the 19-piece orchestra conveyed the irresistible pulse of Leonard Bernstein’s music and gave the entire evening the sort of dramatic heft and unbelievable beauty that only occasionally appeared on stage.

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Sing a song of Sondheim

Oct 27

Sing a song of Sondheim

You never need an excuse to celebrate the genius of Stephen Sondheim, but here goes. We're still celebrating his 80th birthday (which actually occurred last March). He has a new book out, Finishing the Hat, Collected Lyrics (1954-1981) With Attendant Comments, Principles, Heresies, Grudges, Whines and Anecdotes (445 pages, Alfred A. Knopf, $39.95). A new DVD, Sondheim: The Birthday Concert, is out on Nov. 6. And tonight in San Francisco is the opening of West Side Story, Sondheim's Broadway debut as a lyricist. Sondheim was interviewed recently on WNYC radio's The Leonard Lopate Show and talked about his life and work. You can listen to the entire interview below, but here are a few juicy excerpts.

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