Posted by Sarah- Show & Tell Reviewer
Transport the classic romance and tragedy of Romeo and Juliet to 1950s New York amidst the rag-tag gangs who clashed over rights to their territory, and you find West Side Story. The association is purposeful, the original creators intended for their story to emulate Shakespeare’s beloved classic.
Last night, West Side Story made its way to the Fox Cities P.A.C. and was warmly welcomed by an eager audience. The cast was superb, the costumes and set were first-class, and the music was outstanding. The Fox Cities was privileged to be presented with an updated version of the classic musical, revived onstage in 2009. This adaptation was Arthur Laurents’ (the author of the book for the original 1957 production) attempt at making the story more modern and authentic. To do so, choreography was slightly modified and more of the script has been translated into Spanish.
The story’s tension was felt as soon as the curtain rose. The story of two conflicting gangs, the Jets and the Sharks, whose rivalry was born not just from wanting control of the same streets, but from the ignorance and racism between Puerto Ricans and Americans in New York at that time, was portrayed swiftly and effectively. The Center’s audience was immediately pulled into the clash and responded with a full range of emotions as well as enthusiastic applause.
Leonard Bernstein's and Stephen Sondheim’s original score is an absolute masterpiece. When it was first being produced Bernstein was told that West Side Story was an impossible project, that no one would be able to sing the complicated rhythms and wide ranging songs. Not only has that supposition been disproved time and again over the decades, but last night in the Fox Cities Performing Arts Center the current cast of West Side Story demonstrated just how wrong those nay-sayers were. The difficult songs were played and sung masterfully, making it appear to an unsuspecting audience as if this musical’s score were easy and not the truth behind it: that they were performing musical acrobatics.
Tony and Maria, West Side Story’s Romeo and Juliet, portrayed their love story beautifully. During the scene depicting Tony (played by Matthew Hydzik) and Maria’s (played by Evy Ortiz) first meeting, the audience was spellbound, completely drawn into the young couple’s ignited love. As they sang the duet “Tonight” on Maria’s balcony, their immediate and consuming love for each other was practically palpable. Later in the show, when the two were reunited after the Jets and Sharks ill-fated rumble, a spell-binding ballet accompanied their beautiful exchange of “Somewhere”.
Other characters drew strong reactions from the audience as well. Officer Krupke and Lieutenant Schrank (Wally Dunn and Mike Boland) played their judgmental, bigoted parts so well; the audience hated them just as much as the Jets did. Anita (played by Michelle Aravena) on the other hand, pulled on viewer’s hearts as she displayed raw and real emotions when her character was pulled between love for Bernardo, the leader of the Sharks, and a more level-headed understanding of love and life than her cohorts. Anita kept many laughing and crying right along with her through her passionate dialogue and songs telling the tumultuous tale.
Every piece of West Side Story’s presentation enhanced their telling of the romance of Tony and Maria, fixed within the drama between the Jets and the Sharks. The sets effectively created the mood of each scene. The music, both performed to and as background, drew watchers into the emotion of every character. The choreography, most of it unchanged from the original production, was masterful and exact and successfully depicted the abundance of action.
As the musical reached its climax, you could almost feel the audience collectively holding their breath. When Tony sought out Bernardo’s assistant, Chino, in the streets, believing his beloved Maria to be dead, his passionate screams were heart-wrenching. A momentary sigh of relief was felt as Tony spotted Maria, and realized her being shot by Chino was all a lie. And as they ran to each other, the audience gasped as one being when Chino fired his gun, killing Tony in cold blood.
When the musical quickly came to its close on the final scene last night, it was as if the viewers were afraid to move from their seats. The beautiful love story of Tony and Maria, surrounded by tension, and ending in heartache for so many, seemed almost more than they could bear. If you love to be drawn into a story heart and soul, if you don’t mind your laughter being followed by tears; you will love West Side Story.
Parents should be forewarned that, if this musical were a movie, it would have a PG-13 rating, due to suggestive lyrics, crude gestures, sensuality, and racist slurs. It is much more risqué and provocative than the film version.