Monday, February 13, 2012

Get Ready to Rumble

When West Side Story debuted on Broadway in 1957, it broke the mold that had long driven the themes of Broadway musicals. Up to that point, musicals were typically romps that, even though they contained conflict, were upbeat and ended on a happy note. West Side Story, by exploring racism and the effects of violence, paved the way for contemporary musicals from Hair to Rent and beyond.

It is within this context that the current touring production of West Side Story holds great power. The young love of Tony and Maria and the difficulty of realizing it in the racist environment of 1950s New York City is as timeless as Romeo and Juliet, the play on which West Side Story is loosely based. At times, the racism is jarring, and yet it serves as reminder that though the world may have evolved, the racism that existed in the 1950s has not disappeared and it is imperative to remember its negative effects.

Evy Ortiz and Ross Lekites
Many elements of the production reveal its age, not only the time period in which it is set, but the time in which it was written. This is strongly illustrated right off the bat as the main conflict between the Sharks and the Jets is set up only through dance. The entire prologue scene passes with no lyrics or dialogue, and because of this the audience immediately knows that this musical is different.
The music and lyrics of Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim always perfectly match the tone of the scene. Bernstein's music is harsh and pulsing during the fight scenes and quiet, melodic, and full of longing when Tony and Maria express their feelings for one another. Most pleasing to the ears and eyes is "Somewhere" in which the whole company takes the stage and the lighting transitions through several bright hues. "Somewhere" which follows the flighty "I Feel Pretty" are perfectly timed in the show to give the audience a break from the intensity of the rumble that has just wrought severe consequences.

Ross Lekites as Tony and Evy Ortiz as Maria do a commendable job portraying the innocence and excitement of young love. Both actors have strong voices and expressive faces, but it is the rest of the company that handles the heavy lifting when it comes to the dancing. It is unbelievable what legs can do when attached to the body of a trained dancer. The ensemble deserves great credit for bringing the emotions alive through movement.

 So while this show does not end on a note that encourages repeat viewing, West Side Story is nonetheless a well done production that deserves attention both for the strength of the performances and the power of the music.

1 comment:

  1. Brooke, I love your passion for Broadway shows and shall feature your "My Gutsy Story" on Monday February 20th. Thanks for submitting. Sonia/Gutsy Living. http//