I found myself nervously sitting amidst a very anxious and excited crowd this past Tuesday evening at the gorgeous Fisher Theatre in Detroit. I couldn't help but soak in the energy.
I too was anxious to see West Side Story live, it would be the first time in my life. After all it is one of the most famous and long running Broadway Musicals that has existed in the 20th century. I allowed myself to relax and was immediately sucked deeper into the ambiance of the theatre as the growing crowd gathered. They talked and laughed like they had known one another for years. Maybe it was just a West Side Story kinda thing.
snap snap snap...
If you haven't seen West Side Story, I suggest you do so.
An interesting bit of information is that the play was originally brainstormed in 1947! Choreographer Jerome Robbins approached Leonard Bernstein and Arthur Laurents about collaborating on a contemporary musical adaptation of Romeo and Juliet. It had to modern, smart, perfect in musical accompaniment, academic brilliance in dance, and it had to have unforgettable texture in the storyline. They decided to set the story in New York City during the 1950's. Instead of the Capulets and the Montagues there were two violent teen gangs the Jets( Polish American natives) and the Sharks (Puerto Rican immigrants).
Tensions rise when Maria and Tony meet and this chance encounter will change the fabric of the entire neighborhood and all who live in it because Maria is a Shark's little sister and Tony is a Jet. Regardless and without hesitation the unlikely pair immediately fall in love. Their forbidden love is discovered and war is declared between the two gangs. The two lovers decide they cannot bear being apart regardless of the cost. The story follows them all the way to the bitter end.
Now back to tonight's performance, as the award winning orchestra boomed, the show began and my heart skipped a beat. One by one the proud cast came strolling, swaggering, sometimes leaping onto stage introducing their individual characters through song, dance and memorable one-liners. They had no problems showing their gritty sides allowing their minds and bodies to be taken over by roles that were written before they were born. It was interesting to watch a group of young modern adults embrace a story that was written in a time when prejudices were so blatantly spilled from people's veins as well as their lips.
We swoon for Actress MaryJoanna Grisso who brings the cute and naive Maria to life with elegant footwork, graceful demeanor and flawless vocal. We root for Tony played by Jared Biron Greene who had a chilling ability to express himself through song.
My favorite character was Anita, Maria's friend who is played by Puerto Rican born actress and dancer Michelle Alves. Her previous works include quirky roles in Chicago, Hairspray, and Rent. Her performance was seamless with brash humor and flirtatiously fetching dance moves.
The rest of the standout cast had no problems taking me with them. I felt their hopes, fears, and frustrations. I felt the sting of tears in my eyes when they wanted me to, and I breathed again only when I was told. West Side Story is not for the faint of heart ; it a story of passion. It flaunts sexuality, violence, and mayhem. It gives us a peek into the confusion of having to grow up during hard times. It is a social commentary of life 50 years before now. However, this deeper darker message is balanced perfectly with the abstract escapism of song and dance. And this ability to hold us tight for so long is due only to sublime skill.
West Side Story is a wonderfully colorful choreographed piece of timeless art. It holds tight to tradition while being smart enough to take advantage of what today's theatre has to offer in modern technology regarding lighting, sound, and scene design. This does not take away from the attention to detail, the colors are rich and vibrant, the materials flowing and mesmerizing. The movement of each connected piece fluid and strong.
I am ecstatic that I got to experience the original production of West Side Story. It's a Broadway experience that turns spectacle into spectacular. I will never forget the story of Maria and Tony nor the Jets and the Sharks. I won't forget the dancers exploding onto the stage with their hearts pounding and their intoxicating energy. The team effort and hard work put into this production was like a ray from the sun reaching out and touching me.
My face is still warm from smiling.