There are only a handful of musicals that, when they were released, changed the landscape of American musical theatre. There was one show that seemed so dark, so different, and so out of place that many producers pulled out and it was shelved for over five years. This contemporary musical re-telling of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet was set in New York in the mid 1950’s and it was called West Side Story.
West Side Story was a collaboration effort between Stephen Sondheim, Leonard Bernstein, and Arthur Laurents (and William Shakespeare) so it had all the necessary ingredients to be a huge success. But most musicals of the time were much happier and more traditional. In fact, West Side Story lost the Tony for Best Musical to Meredith Wilson’s The Music Man. No disrespect to “76 Trombones,” but it is certainly clear that West Side Story was far ahead of its time, and it is certainly just as relevant today as it was 50 years ago.
The National Touring Production of West Side Story, re-imagined and re-energized, is currently playing at the Temple Buell Theatre through January 1st, and if you have never had the opportunity to see it live, then this is your chance. This new version takes advantage of many opportunities to translate well known dialogue and lyrics into Spanish, enhancing the urban feel and the realism of the piece. The translated portions are very well selected, and nothing is lost for those that don’t speak the language. In fact, it helps to illuminate the cultural differences between the Sharks and the Jets.
This is a stripped down, raw, and emotional version of this well-known classic. This allows the actors and the emotions to truly cary the show, and these fine young actors do a tremendous job. In fact, the most common thing over heard on opening night was just how young this cast is. And, truth is, they are all quite young, but they are all dazzling on stage. And really, that is part of the story. Just like Romeo and Juliet, Tony and Maria are supposed to be young, they are just kids and they are new to these powerful emotions. After all, it is that youthful naivete that helps to propel the story forward, using those alien and all-consuming emotions to justify everything that happens during the production.
Ross Lekites and Evy Ortiz are spectacular as Tony and Maria, with strong chemistry and truly heartfelt emotions. Michelle Aravena as Anita is also strong and determined with a powerful presence, and she does a tremendous job living up to the role made famous by the incomparable Rita Moreno and Chita Rivera.
Of course the other huge star of this production is all of the wonderful dance numbers. The beautiful choreography was brought from the original Broadway production, re-energized by Joey McKneely and every moment is spectacular.
Sure, there aren’t many street gangs left that start fights with snaps, high kicks, and leaps but if you let that go and truly immerse yourself in the world, then West Side Story is a powerful journey, one that is still relevant, still powerful and still just as heart wrenching as it was when Shakespeare himself wrote it.
Denver Center Attractions Presents:
West Side Story
Through January 1st
At the Temple Buell Theatre
Tickets Start at $20
Click Here for tickets and details