Tuesday, March 3, 2009

West Side Story

So I was leaving work on Friday, chatting with my coworker Vivien about our weekend plans. She asked if I had seen any good shows lately, and I told her about Becky Shaw and that my friend Alison loved Guys and Dolls starring our gal Lauren Graham. Vivien mentioned that she really wanted to see West Side Story when it opened, that it was a childhood favorite. I enthusiastically agreed, and promised myself that I would see it sometime this year.

Upon exiting the elevator on my way to meet friends in West Village for dinner, I got a call from my theater friend Colleen who had three free tickets for that night's performance. Do you want them she asked? Yes please!

So Katie, Chris and I scampered up to Broadway, grabbed a coffee and our free tickets (I love free tickets more than anything) and settled into our red velvet sets for the next three hours. I love West Side Story.

The show opens with a long, stretching overture and dance number so rarely seen in shows today. The Sharks and Jets spring onto stage with snaps and pirouettes and shocking grande jettes. We are whisked into Sondheim's world as he intended... fighting via ballet kicks and choreographed punches... dancing with bright skirts and stomping heels.

We all know the story... its Romeo & Juliet with a trick ending. Tony and Maria fall in love without so much as a hello and then die a day later at the fault of their families and friends. Its a tragic tale of racism, boundary, and true love. The story serves as a warning to all of us about hatred and decency. Maria's final monologue hits us at our core as she forces the gun into the faces of Sharks and Jets alike. It's stinging... a difficult point to hit in musical theater. And it works.

This production specifically wowed me is ways I haven't felt in a while. I was most impressed with the small changes including a large amount of Spanish. I Feel Pretty was sung completely in Spanish, as was the entire dialogue in the Maria bedroom scene. The Sharks spoke to each other only in their native tongue, just as they would, and nothing was translated for the audience. This worked primarily because we all know the story, but also because we are more able to understand human interaction than we give ourselves credit for.

I once heard a story on NPR about a deaf girl who worked at a shoe store without any of her customers ever knowing that she was deaf. What could first be attributed a lip reading was revealed as a basic understanding of the human condition. Ladies and gentleman, she even answered the phone. She said she could understand maybe every 10th word which allowed her to connect the dots and string sentences together.

Humans are just so predictable, she laughed with the host. People rarely surprise us, and when they do its usually within a certain realm. No, I can't hear. But I have found a way to understand. The same goes with the Spanish in this rendition of West Side Story. Of course we know what Maria is saying when told that Bernardo was killed. Of course we do.

The singing was spectacular, the dancing right on pitch. We laughed and cried and felt. It took me back to a time in my life when entire afternoons were spent enveloped in musicals with my sisters and friends... under big quilts with popcorn and Sunkist lemonade.

Natalie and Holly first introduced the music and FANTASTIC movie (Natalie Wood, so great!) to my sisters and I. Remember that blue spandex skirt from the Mrs. Singer years? We had the record and would sing and dance to Sondheim's ripping 60's brass numbers and memorize each step and snap in our cold basement during those long summer days.

Holly was probably Maria, Nat would have been Anita, and Laura most likely donned the blazer and cowboy boots as dear Tony. I would have been one of the dancers with those awesome flamenco skirts (substituted by the Christmas Tree skirt, no doubt) twirling and shrieking in the background. Chels would have been Rif.

Am I right?


Meggie Sue said...

always so jealous of the evergreen circle girls...

La said...

I'm so jealous you saw West Side Story! It sounds like it was amazing. Loved the part in the end where I was included. You didn't mention, though, that I would probably start laughing and be cut out of the play to film the video. And that Holly would be the judge.

Sarah Butler said...

emily and tanna would have been the cats.