'West Side Story'
(Fisher Theatre, Detroit, MI - October 6th, 2010)
Shakespeare and Sondheim essentially joined forces at Detroit’s Fisher Theatre September 30 through October 16th as the curtain went up on West Side Story, an adaptation of Romeo and Juliet set against the Manhattan gang scene of the 1960’s.
With music by Leonard Bernstein, lyrics by Broadway master Stephen Sondheim, a libretto by Arthur Laurents, and stunning choreography by Jerome Robbins, the production was sure to delight the mix of young and old that filled the theatre’s seats on opening night.
The curtain goes up to reveal Riff, a well-respected member of the Jets, a white street gang. He leers out at the audience for a moment, and then snaps his fingers. More of the Jets appear, and begin taunting a Puerto Rican that has wandered onto their turf. The Puerto Rican has backup, though, as his gang, the Sharks, surface and proceed to attempt to rough up their adversaries. (“Prologue”) For being two tough gangs, it was thoroughly amusing watching their ballet-esque fight moves! Officer Krupke and Lt. Schrank arrive and break up the tussle, chasing the Sharks away, but not before warning both groups to quit fighting on their beat, or else suffer the consequences.
Riff and the other Jets decide that a rumble would be the best way to secure their hold on the block, and realize that they must ask Tony, a founding member of the gang who’s been distant lately, to help. Some of the other members question Tony’s loyalty, but Riff assures them that Tony will come through. (“The Jet Song”) The scene change finds working stiff Tony telling drugstore owner Doc about the feeling he’s unable to shake that something huge is about to happen. (“Something’s Coming”)
At the local bridal shop, Puerto Rican beauty Maria and her streetwise cousin, Anita, discuss the relationships they have with their boyfriends, Chino and Bernardo, respectively. We also discover that Maria and Bernardo are brother and sister. That night is the dance at the local gymnasium, which is neutral territory. While both gangs dance with their own, Tony and Maria’s eyes meet from across the crowded dance floor. They kiss. This ignites an argument between Riff and Bernardo, which ends in the calling of a “war counsel” at midnight to determine the finer points of the ensuing rumble. Both promise to stick to their own sides.
Tony leaves the dance, and reflects on his newfound love interest named “Maria.” As fate would have it, he wanders directly to her balcony. The two profess their love for one another, channeling the Bard’s star-crossed lovers. (“Tonight”) Before parting ways, Maria and Tony vow to see each other again. Meanwhile, Anita and the rest of her amigas debate the pros and cons of living in the United States. (“America”)
Inside the drugstore, the Jets anxiously await both Tony’s and the Sharks’ arrivals. Action, one of the tougher members, is getting riled up, but Riff preaches about the importance of staying “Cool” and remaining focused. The Sharks--and Tony show up, and Tony manages to talk the groups out of a free-for-all, and instead to a one-on-one fistfight. Both gangs are satisfied with the arrangement, but inwardly decide to bring the switchblades--just in case.
Tony makes a getaway back to Maria at the deserted bridal shop. He reassures her that the rumble will hardly be an issue, and they imagine their wedding. (“One Hand, One Heart”) The following evening, everyone is preparing for what will happen next. (“Tonight--Quintet) The Jets and Sharks are concentrating on the ensuing confrontation: Anita is looking forward to the night of passion she and Bernardo will indulge in, and Tony and Maria are delighting in soon seeing each other once again.
At the rumble, Diesel steps up to defend the Jets, but Tony rushes in, making one final attempt at peace. Bernardo taunts him, and Riff jumps in to stick up for his best pal. Tony begs Riff to back down, but he refuses. Riff and Bernardo draw their switchblades, and fight. (“The Rumble”) Bernardo stabs and kills Riff. Out of rage, Tony grabs the knife, and stabs Bernardo. As police whistles near, both gangs scatter, leaving an agonized Tony alone with the two corpses. As Anybodys, the Jets resident Tomboy, returns and persuades him to go, he does, leaving the two corpses behind.
The second act opens on a positive note, with Maria, unbeknownst to what has happened, telling her friends all about how happy she is. (“I Feel Pretty”) Chino, Maria’s betrothed, comes in bloodied, and she asks the results of the rumble. Chino tearfully informs her of her brother’s death, and she is incredulous. As Maria fervently prays for everything to just be a mistake, Tony climbs in through the window. She throws herself at him, punching him, screaming that he killed Bernardo. Tony holds her, and together they dream about a place where there’s no violence, and tolerance for love exists. (“Somewhere.”)
Out in the neighborhood, the Jets are attempting to collect themselves after everything that’s happened. They begin to wonder how hoods end up the way they do, and why the police are always breathing down their neck. The result is “Gee, Officer Krupke,” a zany little number that is probably as humorous as it is stupid.
Back in Maria’s bedroom, she and Anita commiserate over lost loves. Anita tells her less worldly cousin that she couldn’t possibly have a life with “A Boy Like That.” Maria counters, “I Have a Love,” and, with a new understanding having been reached, Anita promises that she will prevent Chino from exacting revenge on Tony, and tell Tony that Maria still wants him. The culprit is hiding out in Doc’s drugstore cellar, and when Anita shows up to deliver the news, she is harassed by the Jets that are hanging around, and, out of anger, says that Chino has found out about Maria’s romance, and has shot her.
Tortured by the alleged death of his girlfriend, Tony runs out into the empty streets, calling for Chino to kill him, too. As if on cue, up comes Maria. As Tony goes toward her, Chino emerges from the shadows and shoots him. Tony dies in Maria’s arms, and she delivers a dramatic soliloquy about the number of bullets in the gun: One for Tony, and now, one for her--but they are only words. She is joined by members of both gangs, and the curtain falls as Action, the new leader of the Jets, gently places a hand on Maria’s shoulder, signifying the end of the conflict.
Since hitting Broadway in 1957, West Side Story has become renowned as one of the most beloved stage musicals of all time--and rightfully so. Everything from the music to the acting was superb. Kyle Harris as Tony, especially, was fantastic. The only quirk was the bilingual nature of the show. Parts of the “Tonight” reprise as well as “I Feel Pretty” were sung in Spanish, a notion I quickly dubbed admirable, yet irritating. The choreography was breathtaking as young men leapt and pirouetted across the stage and young women provocatively lifted their skirts and kicked up their heels. Sitting near people far older than I, gave me even less shame to mouth along with the lyrics that I knew so well.
West Side Story tells a timeless tale, about the triumphs and risks that accompany true love. And living in a time in which the concepts of relationships and tolerance are such monumental ideals, it brings to thought that maybe, just maybe, “there’s a place for us, a time and place for us…somehow, someday, somewhere…”
Ashley J. Trombley
Looking to see 'West Side Story' performed in your neck of the woods? Check out www.razorgator.com to see if they have any tickets available.