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West Side Story dances on

Inspired by William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, West Side Story marks its 60th anniversary this year but its cast says its tragic tale of teenage love is just as relevant today as when it was first staged in 1957.

Centering around doomed lovers Tony and Maria, who find themselves on opposite sides of a bitter feud between rival street gangs, the popular musical takes place on the mean streets of 1950s New York.

But, it could just have easily have been set in London or even Auckland, says Eric Rolland who plays school dance director Glad Hand.

"It's the same story throughout the world," Rolland says, when I meet him and other members of the cast and crew backstage after a show at Dublin's Bord Gais Theatre.

"It hasn't changed one iota. Culture clashes are still going on everywhere, whether it be in America, in Ireland or wherever."

Jenna Burns, who takes the lead role of Maria, says the story told in the musical is probably always going to be relevant.

"We're always going to have things we disagree on and that's why it's so important to keep telling the story, so people can - hopefully - be encouraged to learn how to live together and work with each other."

Kevin Hack, who plays Maria's love interest, Tony, says attending a production of West Side Story could be a good way to unite disparate groups.

"It brings everybody together and you can see that at the end of the show, even though there's a bit of a sad ending, love will always be there."

In the middle of a world tour that has so far encompassed much of Asia and Europe, it's the well-known songs that get the most enthusiastic response. " ... If we tell people we're doing West Side Story they'll say 'oh, Maria!'" adds Burns.

"That's something that jumps out at them even if they haven't seen the show or don't really remember it."

Produced by the legendary Jerome Robbins and with music by Leonard Bernstein, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and a book by Arthur Laurents, West Side Story tasks veteran musical director Donald Chan with ensuring the original text is adhered to.

"We haven't updated anything as far as the show itself is concerned," says Chan, who has supervised more than 3000 performances of West Side Story during the past 35 years.

"The music is the same and the storyline and the dialogue the same, but we have perhaps altered a couple of the musical tempos."

Much of Robbins' original choreography is unchanged.

"Jerome had a unique way of choreographing things, and he was a genius in terms of arranging fight scenes and doing beautiful ballets as well," says Chan. "He knew exactly what he wanted."

Having performed in one of Robbins' own productions of West Side Story on Broadway before moving into choreography, director Joey McKneely knows exactly what is required for the dance sequences.

"In the scene where I'm watching the Jets and the Sharks [the show's rival gangs] going at each other in the gym, Joey was telling me how my character is screaming until he just can't take any more and then the dance takes over," says Hack. "It's almost like when words don't come any more, you have to dance it out."

Despite being the introductory point for many people, including several of the younger cast members, Chan insists the theatrical version of West Side Story shouldn't be compared to the 1961 movie, which won 10 Oscars including Best Picture and Best Director for co-directors Robert Wise and Robbins.

"Theatre is always a very different experience to film," says Rolland.

"The great thing about doing this is that every night we're creating the show all anew. We have some things that we always do but we have a different audience every night, and different circumstances on stage, so every show is different and new. It's never been seen like that before, and then it will never be seen like this again."

What: West Side Story
Where and when: Civic Theatre, from June 22



( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
Jun. 14th, 2017 01:17 pm (UTC)
Yes. The experiences with live theatre and with film are very different, but both great.
There are some similarities to both the original Broadway stage version and the film version of West Side Story, however.

Much of the story was kept the same in both the original Broadway stage version of West Side Story and the film version, but in the film, the orders of "Officer Krupke" and "Cool" were changed around; "Officer Krupke" put prior to the Rumble, while Riff was still alive and leading the Jets, and the "Cool" scene after the Rumble, when Ice (who took the place of Diesel in the film), took over the Jet gang leadership after Riff's death.

In the "America" scene, the lyrics were changed somewhat for the film, and, while the "America" scene in the original Broadway stage production of West Side Story had only the Sharks' girls performing this particular song/scene, both the guys and the gals in the Shark gang performed the "America" scene in the film version.

On stage, there's room for different twists, and in re-creating a play in different ways, which has been very true with West Side Story.

The ways of communication between the audience and the actors/actresses are quite different in both live theatre and film, as well. Here's why:

A) While film absolutely demands the audience's attention by looming up larger than life-sized on the big screen, live theatre requires a much narrower focus.

B) Because live theatre deals with real live people, and more subtle scenery, it takes much more of an effort to maintain the communication between the audience(s) and the actors/actresses. Also, on stage, much of the scenery is left to the imagination, if one gets the drift.

In talking with different people about West Side Story, I have found that the opinions differ pretty widely among those I've talked to. Some people have preferred West Side Story on stage, because the people seem more real. Other people have preferred the film, while others have liked both the stage version and the film version of West Side Story equally well.

Imho, while most musicals are definitely better on stage, I feel that West Side Story has been equally successful on both stage and screen, due to the subject matter, the dancing, the intensely brilliant Bernstein musical score, the fact that so much of it relates to real life, both in our society and throughout the world, and the beautifully-photographed cinematography and scenery, which uncannily combines both on-location filming and sound stage sets together to make the scenery look like a rough and run-down part of a large American city. One of West Side Story's best successes on the screen, however, was also due to the fact that, when it was transferred from stage to screen, it was preserved as a larger-than-life piece of theatre.

One also must remember, however, that it was the film version of West Side Story (which won 10 well-deserved Academy Awards, including Best Picture, when it came out in late October of 1961) that popularized West Side Story as a musical, overall.

Edited at 2017-06-14 01:20 pm (UTC)
( 1 comment — Leave a comment )


wss crazy cool by dallowayward
West Side Story

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