West Side Story is the tale of ghetto youth the city, the members of an Irish gang, the Jets, and a gang of recently immigrated Puerto Rican teens, the Sharks. They are embroiled in an ethnic war where they fight and scrap about everything…resources, family pride and territorial boundaries. The hate here is palpable, an unseen entity that drives the gangs to horrible acts of violence.
It isn’t long, however, before hate has a powerful rival in the form of love at first sight between Tony, leader of the Jets and Maria, beautiful young sister to Bernardo, leader of the rival Sharks. Theirs is a forbidden love and the ensuing battle between emotions and family obligation mirrors the conflict between the two gangs, a conflict destined to end in great tragedy. If the plot seems familiar…star crossed lovers and cultural/familial conflict…that’s because West Side Story is admittedly a modern version of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.
This version of West Side Story is an update, a revival of the 1957 original. The story has held up well and aside from some choreography and dialogue changes to better evoke modern day speech, all the elements that make it a classic are still strongly in place.
Ross Lekites as Tony and Evy Ortiz as Maria are beautifully matched as the doomed lovers. Lekites is strong, tall, with a beautifully clear tenor voice. His version of the classic “Maria” brought a new vitality to a well used song. I believed every word he sang.
Evy Ortiz is delicate and beautiful, achingly young, pouring innocence and virtue like a soothing balm over the raw reality of her new world; but once she meets Tony there is a subtle sexuality in her performance that turns her from a child into a woman before our eyes. Inside the beautifully crafted “A Place for Us” reprise in the final scene, she brought me to tears with the loss and hopelessness expressed in her extraordinary voice.
The supporting cast is superb, dancing, flying, singing all over the stage. Colors and dancers streak by at dizzying speeds, and my favorite, “America”, was performed with the zing of zesty salsa thanks to Michelle Arevena as Anita. The gang’s members are agile and tough, the gang-girls are sassy and tougher and all of them perform with tang and polish.
Some of the dialogue and song lyrics have been translated into Puerto Rican in deference to our Spanish speaking citizens, however it’s only a small portion of the whole and it’s done so beautifully it seems perfectly natural. The writers made sure you don’t miss anything. All that is in Spanish is repeated seamlessly in English.
This is a wonderful production full of the energy of youth, the angst of growing to adulthood, and the power of love that compels human beings to rise above their environment, if only for one brief moment.