Can "West Side Story" really be 55 years old?
Although the daddio-infused lingo is dated, the musical that was staged by the Tri-Valley Repertory Theatre this weekend and will continue next Friday-Sunday at the Bankhead Theater in Livermore is as fresh and supple as the dancers that effortlessly kick, leap and glide through the production.
The 16-member band under musical director Jo Anne Fosselman deals deftly with Leonard Bernstein's clever score. Its original use of tritonal pitches -- weird and edgy-sounding progressions -- to create tension plus its constant play with rhythm and percussion drew mixed reviews in 1957, but musicologists have been analyzing its syncopations ever since, including the use of snapping fingers as musical instruments.
Choreographer (and director) Christina Lazo did her usual fine job on the dance numbers, which uplift the audience from the grim reality of the two gangs out for blood.
It's the old Romeo and Juliet plot as Tony (Robert Lopez), originally the head of the Jets gang, and Maria ((Kristina Stasi), sister of Bernardo, head of the Puerto Rican Sharks, fall madly in love at first sight in a crowded dance at the West Side gymnasium. Their versatile voices easily handle the challenging songs that veer to the operatic, but the pleasant surprise is their acting as they begin giddily to recognize their love and plan to find a "new way of living" and "a way of forgiving."
The final tragedy spurs Maria to a hysterical outburst that doesn't leave a dry eye in the house.
Some modern productions have the Puerto Ricans speaking and singing in Spanish but thankfully Tri-Valley Rep stuck to the original idea of using heavily accented English, the better to appreciate the lyrics of Stephen Sondheim that are incredibly clever even if they might not realistically issue from the mouths of hoodlums and English-second-language speakers.
Anita (Katie Pogue), Bernardo's (Andrew Taula) girlfriend and Maria's confidante, steals the show whenever she is onstage with her spicy sexiness.
The excellent cast also included a feisty Olivia Hytha as Anybodys, Brendon North as Riff, Salim Razawi as Chino, and dramatic roles were played by Gary Bennett aas Doc and Brian FitzMaurice as Lt. Shrank.
Once the sadness of the ending subsides, you'll be left humming "When you're a Jet," "Dance at the Gym," "Maria," "America," Cool," "I Feel Pretty," and others. Don't be surprised if you snap your fingers on the way to the car.
Pretty, witty and bright
What: West Side Story
Who: Tri-Valley Repertory Theatre
When: Through Nov. 4, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; 2 p.m. Sundays
Where: Bankhead Theater, 2400 First St., Livermore
Tickets: $28-$38; call 373-6800 or visit www.trivalleyrep.org