West Side Story

WEST SIDE STORY

 

By Gary Murray

 

Starring Ross Lekites, Evy Ortiz, Michelle Aravena, Drew Foster and German Santiago

 

Book by Arthur Laurents

 

Music by Leonard Bernstein

 

Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim

 

Directed by David Saint

 

West Side Story is a flawless musical experience.  The tragedy based on Romeo & Juliet has thrilled audiences for a good fifty years.  The tale of star-crossed lovers Tony and Maria still touches the young and the young-at-heart.  The most recent touring company takes the boards of the Music Hall at Fair Park as a part of the State Fair of Texas. 

 

The play opens with the prologue and the famous “Jet Song” done by Riff and the some of the male members of the cast.  Very soon, it becomes obvious how athletic the young men are.  They dance and jump with both grace and precision.  The Jets have been having a long scrape with the Sharks, a rival gang from Puerto Rico.  As the two fight over a little plot of land, racial and societal issues come to the forefront.   

 

Soon, we meet Tony (Ross Lekites), a founder of the Jets who wants something more out of life.  On the other side of the stage, Anita (Michelle Aravena) and Maria (Evy Ortiz) are introduced.  Everyone has Maria’s life planned out, who she will marry and how she will live.

 

The two rival gangs meet at a dance in the school gym.  “Dance at the Gym” is one of the hottest numbers of the entire production.  Both the extended gangs get to show off some high stepping numbers as they jockey for position in the social order.  This is where Tony actually sees Maria, which is love at first sight on both of their parts.  Ross belts out “Maria”, a number he makes both intimate and a show-stopper.  He follows her to her apartment, which doubles as the R&J balcony.  Together they sing “Tonight” one of the most memorable numbers of the entire work.  The two blend together, with contrasting vocal styles meshing together in a perfect harmony. 

 

The play builds to the tragic ending of Act I, the rumble that has some much unforeseen consequences.  Character die, propelling our tragic Act II.

 

The very short Act II only has four musical numbers.  Maria, in her room with some girlfriends, belts out “I Feel Pretty” with some much needed comic tones.   Evy Ortiz shows off some serious acting prowess and a powerful voice in what has been turned into an almost throw-away scene.  The other comic highlight of Act II is “Officer Krupke” the juvenile delinquent stages of judgment by society.  After that, all the tragic elements pull together to the inevitable and catastrophic end. 

 

Even though the production is heavy on dance, song after song rings as classics.  I Feel Pretty, America, Tonight and Maria are all a part of the American Songbook.  This young cast handles some of the more important music of the 20th century with flashes of brilliance.  This cast delivers every number as if it were their only chance to prove their talents to the world.

 

Arguably, the most iconic role of West Side Story is the second female lead, Anita played by Michelle Aravena.  She has some serious shoes to fill since this role has become a star-making vehicle.  The dancing on “America” is wonderful but it never becomes the show-stopping be-all end-all number that it could be.  A nice execution but never the climatic dance number of productions past.      

 

The sets and costumes are on a par with the best of Broadway.  Though minimalist in size, the sets are just enough to suggest both the grit of the streets and the flash of a major show.  It is the costumes that truly catch the eye.  The dresses just flow in layers of softness, almost as if they were old fashioned hoop skits but without the stiffness.  The colors are magical, with the lights giving them a brighter snap.

 

In the final analysis, West Side Story is exactly what a musical should be.  This is a must see experience that makes it worth fighting the crowds and traffic of Fair Park.  Do not miss this one.

 

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