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Wow! That is what I have to say regarding Broadway Sacramento's opening night performance of the current national tour of "West Side Story." The sold out house at the Community Center Theater suggests others agree. While it is beautifully staged, with wonderful singing anddance, and good acting, it is the material that is the star here.
The powerful music of Leonard Bernstein coupled with the equally powerfully words of Stephen Sondheim are enough to make "West Side Story" a show worth seeing.
Add in the choreography of original "West Side Story" director and choreographer Jerome Robbins, which can move from strongly ballet to strongly modern dance in a moment, and it's hard to beat.
All of this wraps around a story that goes back much farther than
Shakespeare and his Romeo and Juliet: the consequences can be deadly if you fall in love with the wrong person. Arthur Laurents' book moves the story to the low income west side of Manhattan of the 1950s with the racial tension and gang turf warfare between the newly arriving Puerto Rican immigrants and sons and grandsons of the wave of Irish and Italian immigrants that had proceeded the Puerto Ricans.
Interestingly, Laurents who directed the Broadway revival this production is based on, did some tweaking of the original Broadway show. Most revealing is a much expanded use of Spanish by the Sharks both speaking and singing. Laurents used Lin-Manuel Miranda ("In theHeights") to write the translation. Imagine though the idea of altering Stephen Sondheim's lyrics!
Laurents also made some changes to iconic choreographer Robbin's original choreography with the assistance of Joey McKneely.
"West Side Story" which was so groundbreaking in 1957 in so many ways remains a powerful and relevant work today. Some of this might be due to how "operatic" "West Side Story" is. The staging of this productiontends to highlight the operatic elements of the play.
The scenic design by James Youmans has a very opera production feel to it in a very good way. The scenes and scene shifts are very much enhanced by Howell Bunkley's lighting design. There were several scenes where the lighting effect would be described as dramatic.
(Image by: Joan Marcus)
As for costuming, the Sharks really have it over the Jets in David C. Woolard's costume design. Both the Puerto Rican men and the women know how to dress up for a party. The costumes also enhance the powerful athletic movement of the actor/dancers. From the the whirling color and movement of the women's dresses to the form fitting costumes of the men the costuming adds more color and movement to the dance while beautifully displaying the human form of gifted dancer/performers. As a nod to realism the Jets male gang members are in the iconic gang look of New York in the fifties of jeans, ragged Ts, and tennis shoes.
(Image by: Joan Marcus)
All this is served up with live orchestra led opening night by John O'Neil.
The cast of strong triple threat performers in dance, voice, and acting were led by Ross Lekties as Tony/Anton and Evy Ortiz as Maria.
(Image by: Carol Rosegg)
Lekties and Ortiz each have a beautiful voice and are wonderful to hear singing the great Bernstein-Sondheim solos of their characters.
Together on the great duets of their characters such as "Tonight" and "One Hand One Heart," they sound even better. Even in a quintet of "Tonight" by Tony, Maria, Anita, the Jets and the Sharks, they hold their own.
That quintet pulled out all the operatic stops in many ways including Maria arriving on the scene on her balcony as it enters above the stage from the wings. The scene is followed by the most dramatic of the scene changes as the highway and chain link fences come into place for the rumble.
Michelle Aravena and German Santiago as Anita and Bernardo and Drew Foster as Riff are equally talented stars with Lekties and Ortiz.
(Image by: Joan Marcus)
Every thing about this production is geared towards taking one of the most enduring works of story, music, voice, and dance that powerfully tells an age old story of forbidden love and transporting it to what was the contemporary time of its creators. What is amazing is how a story set in the middle of the last century and dealing with social issues of that time, both greatly entertains and brings up numerous issues still relevant today.
In the end though it is the excitement of holding a ticket (if you are lucky) to what will be a fantastic evening of entertainment. The
excitement of the crowd. The curtain goes up and you are treated to a most enjoyable performance of an American classic.