West Side Story is based on Romeo & Juliet, and tells the story of two rival gangs in New York, one white and one Puerto Rican. Protagonists Tony and Maria fall in love despite coming from different sides of this rivalry. The revival has all of the elements we know and love, but has a few key changes, including incorporating some Spanish in dialogue and lyrics. Though this at first was a bit of a surprise to those of us who have can sing every song from memory (and I include myself in this group), it adds a freshness and authenticity that is welcome for a play so often-performed in the past 50 years.
For me, the heart and soul of West Side Story has always been the dancing, with incredible choreography by Jerome Robbins. Dance is an integral part of the most memorable scenes, from the stellar scene at the gym to the well-loved "America" to the ballet-esque dream sequence while Tony and Maria sing "Somewhere." This cast features some amazingly talented dancers, and their grace and athleticism, and the passion you feel through their movement, adds so much to the story.
A few other details in this production stuck out. The sets are brilliant, making you feel like you're on the streets of New York, dancing along with the Sharks and the Jets under a bridge or on the playground. And overall, the costumes are excellent. I love that the Jets and their girls are largely dressed in oranges and yellows, while the Sharks and their ladies wear deep purple and pink, visually representing the divide between the two groups. The orchestra, comprised of both touring and local musicians, deserves high praise for its stellar performance of Leonard Bernstein's score. Michelle Aravena as Anita and Drew Foster as Riff were both highlights of the cast, which was very strong overall.
The Broadway Across America production of West Side Story is definitely worth a trip; the opening night audience agreed, treating the cast to a standing ovation. I've always been a huge fan of this show, and to those West Side Story skeptics (and I know there are at least a few of you out there), I have this advice: suspend your disbelief. We all know that gangs don't actually fight through dance, but it sure is fun to escape for a few hours to a place where they do.
West Side Story, presented by Broadway Across America
Jan. 3-8, Keller Auditorium
"Dance at the Gym"
Tags: West Side Story