'West Side Story' doesn't miss a beat
Dancers are the stars as well as the ill-fated lovers
Can "West Side Story" really be 55 years old? Although the daddio-infused lingo is dated, the musical being staged by the Tri-Valley Repertory Theatre at the Bankhead Theater in Livermore, produced by Kathleen Breedveld, 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 Christina Lazo director 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.
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.
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