An American Masterpiece, Indeed

A world tour production of "West Side Story," 50 years after its opening night. Conceived and choreographed by Jerome Robbins. Music: Leonard Bernstein. Book: Arthur Laurents. Lyrics: Stephen Sondheim. Directed by Joey McKneely, who also reproduced the choreography. Musical supervisor and conductor: Donald Chan. At the Israeli Opera House, Tel Aviv.

I will not make an idiot of myself by pronouncing yet again that Leonard Bernstein's music is a work of a genius, full of zest, harmonies, a never-ending wealth of melodies and a string of hits, one better known than the next, each of them particularly suited to the dramatic moment, and each of them a paragon of complexity and beauty. You are invigorated just by listening to it, and you cannot stop yourself from humming along.

Nor will I make myself a laughingstock by repeating that Jerome Robbins' choreography is what makes it all work. If the principle of a musical is that the characters start singing because their emotions are too overwhelming to be expressed in words, that is true for dance in "West Side Story." There are no "dance numbers" here: Every step is justified dramatically, on top of being another chapter in the history of modern dance.

This time, I want particularly to praise the genius of the plot construction: The curtain comes down at the end of Act One with two dead bodies on stage. Act Two starts with Maria celebrating with "I Feel Pretty," while we know the tragedy that is in store for her. Then she gets the news, and then we get an unrealistic, almost formal ballet, the romantic, poetic scene of "Somewhere." Then comes the comic satiric "Gee Officer Krupke," and only then the swift dramatic ending.

It is an American musical, full of energy and humor, but there is no happy ending here. It proves that you can make entertainment and still be as profound and "artistic" as any tragedy.

This is a world tour production, executed with American efficiency. Unlike in Madonna's mega-show, here the technical know-how is for a worthy reason. There was an excellent team of singers-dancers-actors, though sometimes projecting too much energy, which turned into noise, losing the nuances. Scott Sussman sang beautifully as Tony, Ali Ewoldt as Maria was a joy to look at (with a tad of too much vibrato).

Yes, an American masterpiece indeed.