What is it that draws us into a performance of classic theatre? Is it the sheer simplicity of stage design and meticulous focus on story development and choreography which seems to return us to that of earlier days? Or could it be that we simply reside in the notion that a proven musical standing the test of time will guarantee us more bang for the buck?
Whichever the case, Detroit’s Fisher Theatre welcomed an exhilarating audience as it hosted the opening to the North American touring production of the smash hit Broadway revival of West Side Story. With shows running from September 30 through to October 16, the Motor City will once again shine as it creates the backdrop to this half-century old timeless treasure.
With its opening scene or “Prologue” setting the pace for the evening, those in attendance were likely unaware that they were witnessing one of the most impressive and expressive beginnings to any musical in its day. It portrayed gangs conveying their hatred of one another through movement. For more recent generations raised on A Chorus Line, Rent and Movin’ Out, there seems nothing particularly astounding about a musical which conveys its story through dance, has no conventional chorus and whose two leading characters lie dead on stage at the end of the first act. However, for script-writer Arthur Laurents, director/choreographer Jerome Robbins, lyricist Stephen Sondheim and composer Leonard Bernstein, these were radical and unconventional ventures.
Since its debut on September 26, 1957 at the Winter Garden Theatre, West Side Story has garnered multiple Oscar and Golden Globe Awards as well as a Grammy all accepted in 1962. Supporting the Broadway production was an equally gripping motion picture version starring Natalie Wood as “Maria” and Jerome Beymer as “Tony”, the forbidden star-crossed lovers. The film also received critical acclaim and collected ten Academy Awards in the eleven categories it was nominated for.
The current stage production boasts the stellar performances of both Kyle Harris (Tony) and Ali Ewoldt (Maria) in this “Romeo and Juliet” story set in late summer on the streets of early Manhattan. Tensions mount between two rival gangs made up of white Americans (The Jets) lead by Joseph J. Simeone (Riff) and Puerto Rican immigrants (The Sharks) backed by German Santiago (Bernardo) as they attempt to stake their claim to the back streets of New York City under the watchful eye of Lieutenant Schrank depicted by Christopher Patrick Mullen.
Relocating their quarrel inside a school gymnasium, both factions determine that a dance duel will best decide the outcome and settle their differences. Yet, during an energetic mambo, Tony and Maria meet. Infatuated and entranced by one another their obvious connection ignites even greater strain between The Jets and The Sharks. As their love deepens, the tale of chivalry and deceit play against one another as an unexpected summit leaves audience members breathless.
With tickets now on sale at the Fisher Theatre box office or at www.ticketmaster.com and www.broadwayindetroit.com , enchantment will warm up a cool fall evening in downtown Motown as West Side Story will no doubt leave you with a ‘story’ of your own to tell!