West Side Story is one of the best known American musicals. The plot is based on Romeo and Juliet, but transported to 1950s New York, where a gang war between the Jets (white) and the Sharks (Puerto Ricans) sets the stage of the star crossed lovers. The songs in this timeless show are part of our popular culture, and the 1961 movie adaptation has made the story, music and impressive choreography assessable to many.
Unfortunately however staged productions don't come around that often. It is a large and intimating show to take on, but luckily for Minnesotans the Ordway in association with Teatro del Pueblo has done just that, and they have succeeded with flying colors. They have put together a truly breath taking production.
This was my first time seeing West Side Story live, and I never fully understood the artistic power of this show before. I can say with certainty that you haven't seen West Side Story until you have seen a live stage production, and the one currently playing at the Ordway is one to see.
Dance is such a vital part of the show. All emotions from passion and love to rage are so beautifully expressed on stage. The choreography by Diane Laurenson energetically recreates Jerome Robbin's original and Tony Award winning choreography. The dancing combined with Bernstein’s beautiful score performed by a 19 piece orchestra led by Raymond Berg makes the show feel bigger than the genre that we call musical theater.
With a show as demanding as West Side Story, both musically and physically, there is a danger in the show failing through a rough execution. Luckily this was not the case. The extremely talented cast, filled with a mix of local and New York based actors, performed Bernstein's score and Laurenson's choreography with expert precision.
All elements come together wonderfully in the Ordway's West Side Story, bringing out all the power and potential in the show. This is not a production to be missed! It is playing at the Ordway Theater until April 16th.
* photo: The Jets in West Side Story (photo by Rich Ryan)