Sunday, May 27, 2012

Theatre Review: West Side Story




{pictures used are from our touring cast}


A girl friend and I traipsed out to the Toronto Centre for the Arts the other night to see the new Broadway production of West Side Story: by all accounts one of the most memorable and difficult musical undertakings in the history of theatre.

We are all familiar with this story: many from the popular 1960s film and many from recognizing the many, many famous tunes ripped from Leonard Bernstein's score ( as lyricized by Stephen Sondheim).  In short, the story tells the tale of two star-crossed lovers: the young and beautiful Puerto Rican girl Maria and the dashing former-gang member Tony amidst the gang violence of warring West Side Jets and Sharks and the juvenile turbulence stemmed from racism, hormones, lust, delinquency and passion.



This is very much, like its source material, Romeo and Juliet  an exploration in teen angst.  We find it hard to believe that Maria and Tony could look at each other at a colourfully confetti-lit school dance and fall immediately in eternal love; but we do DO believe that they could fall into teenage lust and so, their tragedy, is acting on their hormones.

As with the Jerome Robbins' choreography ( famous for its ballet-infused fight sequences, incessant snapping and moments of sheer, lucid dream-like fanaticism), the play itself moves liquid and fluid through a timeless world of heart-palpitating action and stern moments of sheer, stolen bliss.  The score is, indeed, another character in the triad of Tony and Maria's renowned tragedy as it propels all action with minor chords, odd-incidentals, clashing score and melancholia.  It is, I believe, one of the most operatic score treatments in musical theatre and, as a vocalist who sings Maria's part along to CD recording for warm-ups often, is cringe-worthy in the sheer magnitude of its forced effort.   To do West Side Story justice, you need, need, NEED to have a flawlessly talented vocal cast. Fortunately, this is where the production excelled. 

There are some noted changes to this most recent adaptation which gained a lot of buzz during Tony's season a few years ago when this production was re-mounted: most popularly the fact that many of the Sharks songs and dialogue is performed in Spanish rather than English. I thought this was brilliantly effectual and allowed the audience to greater sense the divide and the misplaced diaspora plaguing the young Puerto Rican teenagers who idealized America clashed so greatly from the harsh reality they are daily confronted with.  This is not a land of dreams but of ignorance and misunderstanding.
This tension, and the conflicts erupting continuously between the feuding gangs was well-placed against the brash diagonals of the set design and the odd, melodious lighting which painted dream worlds and dirty street-corners.



The performers were pitch-perfect, the singing was as ethereal as the playful and complex score and the choreography harkened back to that we know from Robbins' original conception.   My one complaint was the odd way in which the song Somewhere was realized: here, with Tony and Maria sharing the stage with the young, androgynous Anybodys: the feisty tomboy who yearns to be a Jet rather than a girl.  While they muse on what could be the rival gangs are seen dancing liquidly against a backdrop which recalls a fantasy island.  I found it odd and disconcerting: especially for one of the landmark numbers in the show.


All-in-all a GREAT production and it is touring everywhere: so, for my Toronto readers, catch it here; for those elsewhere, look for it nearby

1 comment:

Ruth said...

Yay! Glad you enjoyed this!