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Broadway leaps into spring

Some big-name actors return to the stage and stir up the classics.

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'West Side Story'

When the musical "West Side Story" first burst onto the stage in 1957, it landed with an earth-shattering force, forever changing the landscape of the American musical theater. With choreography by Jerome Robbins, music by Leonard Bernstein, and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, the show was envisioned as a contemporary, urban updating of Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet." But to its book writer, Arthur Laurents, subsequent major revivals felt synthetic and lacked verisimilitude. In an effort to inject the classic musical with a jolt of fresh urgency and to underline the cultural misunderstandings at the heart of the story, Laurents conceived of a bilingual production for its current reincarnation (which he's directing). Many of the songs and much of the dialogue spoken by the Puerto Rican Sharks gang is now in Spanish. For instance, the classic tune "I Feel Pretty" becomes "Siento Hermosa." Lin-Manuel Miranda, the Tony-winning star and creator of the acclaimed Latino musical, "In the Heights," reworked the lyrics, and Sondheim enthusiastically backed the changes. Word out of Washington, D.C., where the show played a pre-Broadway tryout, has been strong, with reviewers raving about the 21-year-old unknown Maria, Josefina Scaglione, whom Laurents first spotted on YouTube. (Previews begin Feb. 23; opens March 19.)

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'God of Carnage'

The French playwright Yasmina Reza has made a career out of penning wry social satires ("Art," "Life x 3") that savagely skewer the hypocrisies, absurdities, and pretenses of bourgeois values. In "God of Carnage," Reza's scalpel seems just as sharp. The play, which was staged in London last year and garnered solid reviews, centers on two sets of parents who meet to discuss a playground altercation between their 11-year-old sons. The seemingly civilized proceedings quickly turn disastrous, with echoes of "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" Directed by Matthew Warchus, the play has been recast with American actors. Jeff Daniels will play the detached, boorish lawyer, while Hope Davis is his embarrassed, put-upon wife. Marcia Gay Harden portrays the self-righteous liberal activist Veronica, who runs the parent meeting, and James Gandolfini, aka Tony Soprano, is her vulgar, hotheaded husband. (Previews begin Feb. 28; opens March 22.)