The musical explores the rivalry between two very different teenage street gangs: the Jets,a white working class gang whose territory has been infiltrated by the Puerto Rican Sharks.
The story is complicated further when Tony, a member of the Jets, falls in love with Maria, the sister of the Sharks' leader. The dark themed story still echoes many of the social issues of today; prejudice based on the color of one's skin, language, or culture.
The original Broadway production (1957) was written by Arthur Laurents, directed and choreographed by Jerome Robbins, and produced by Hal Prince and Robert E. Griffith, and marked Stephen Sondheim's Broadway debut. The most successful Broadway run at that time (732 performances), the production received numerous Tony awards, a long run in London, and was a huge international success. In addition, the 1961 film adaptation won ten Academy Awards.
This production, deftly directed by David Saint, makes use of the addition of Spanish dialogue and song lyrics which Arthur Laurents had incorporated into his 2009 Broadway revival to add a more realistic approach to the book, punching-up the theme of the ever present cultural divide between the Jets and the Sharks.
Kudos to Joey McKneely, who recreates Robbins' original choreography, while adding his own spin - - the dance numbers made me want to jump up and dance in the aisles.
Having seen the revival on Broadway just a month ago, I was hesitant about seeing the touring production. I am pleased to say that I greatly enjoyed it. This cast's performance drew me in to every song and dance number. Particularly memorable was the "Dance at the Gym" for its glorious music and the execution of choreography.
Just as satisfying were the performances of Ali Ewoldt as 'Maria' and Kyle Harris as 'Tony', Michelle Aravena as the gutsy 'Anita', and Alexandra Frohlinger as gang member wannabe 'Anybodys'.
The cast received standing ovations from an audience that was truly a cross section of Los Angeles.
It was a star-studded opening night at the Pantages, but for me the stage was set when George Chakiris (WEST SIDE STORY'S movie 'Bernardo') got out of his limousine - - as handsomeas ever, representative of the ageless and timeless appeal of this wonderful musical.
Whether you are 8 or 80, you'll enjoy this show!
So, give yourself the gift of live musical theatre at the Pantages through January 2, 2011.
Tickets and more information available at:
BroadwayLA.org, call 1-800-982-ARTS (2787).
Pantages Theatre Box Office
(6233 Hollywood Blvd, open daily 10am-5pm)
By Nancy Bianconi