While common thoughts of the fifties include women in high-waisted poodle skirts, men in tan suits that always seem a half-size too small and people with perma-smiles, saying phrases like “golly-gee” and “that’s swell,” we all know that’s not an accurate image. The fifties were a time of segregation, pivotal social revolution and the inability to enjoy many of life’s pleasures due to society’s prejudices and predetermined stereotypes. West Side Story reveals this darker side of the so-called “innocent” era by telling the story of a forbidden love between two New York high schoolers, Tony and Maria.
Just as Romeo and Juliet could never be together due to their feuding families, Tony and Maria’s love could never exist either due to their feuding friends. Tony is an “American” Jet, while Maria is a “Puerto Rican,” so is automatically linked to the rival gang, the Sharks. At a school dance, Jet Tony falls in love with Maria, a Shark’s younger sister, and though the lovers know they cannot be together because of the gangs' rivalry, they attempt to rise above.
Tony tries to stop the rumble scheduled between the Jets and the Sharks, but he is unsuccessful and finds himself at the tipping point of a domino of murders. Nothing that Tony and Maria say to their friends changes the image that society has painted of the “rival” team, so they agree that their only chance at blissful love is to elope to the city. The plan is to meet at Doc’s Candy Store (there’s the innocent fifties we imagined before!), but don’t forget that Romeo and Juliet also had a plan… and it didn’t follow through as they had hoped…
The Musical Theatre of Los Angeles is a truly talented group of young actors! There were two scenes in particular that include the entire cast and prove their abilities: “Dance at the Gym” and “The Rumble.”
“Dance at the Gym” was full of exciting choreography (my favorite was the Mambo), bright realistic costumes and fabulous singing. The stage was a bit small for such a large production number, but Choreographer Arthur Ross, utilized the space and dance movements so efficiently that nothing appeared squished, awkward or at all unnatural.
“The Rumble” was very unique in that it was set up as a montage that introduced an exclusive, empowering and insightful view of the characters while maintaining a fast, engaging pace to keep the audience focused.
Laura Darrell, “Maria,” was outstanding in every sense of the word, particularly in regards to her powerful voice, as for example in “I Feel Pretty.” By utilizing her incredible vocal range to smoothly hit some of the highest notes I’ve ever heard, Laura conveyed Maria’s pain, excitement and overall persona, all the while, without falter in her perfectly authentic Puerto Rican accent.
Janet Krupin, “Anita,” also blew my mind by her amazing singing. Janet’s voice was not as strong as Laura’s, but her inflection, in addition to her sensual demeanor and vivid facial expressions, portrayed Anita’s pain and cynicism toward the Jets with pure conviction.
Trying to express believable hate towards the Jet actors must have been difficult, because, overall, the Jets were so entertaining to watch! My favorite scene of the whole show was the Jets’ hilarious, slapstick performance of “Gee, Officer Krupke,” an energetic, wildly choreographed mockery of the town’s police department. You could feel the boys’ camaraderie and playful on-stage chemistry as they delivered each punch line perfectly on-cue.
Clayton Shane Farris, “Action,” was especially noteworthy due to his ability to mesmerize the audience with his accurate display of emotion and realistic style, whether via comedic pieces such as “Gee, Officer Krupke” or pure dialogue as executed throughout the musical.
The only part of this West Side Story performance that I did not love was “Ballet Sequence.” Though there was great orchestra and musical direction by Greg Haake, the scene was long and seemed incongruent with the rest of the production. As talented as they were, the graceful, delicate lyrical dancers appeared out of place among the harsh New York setting and intense gang feuding. “Ballet Sequence” was like the mirror reflection of “Dance at the Gym,” as both incorporated the entire cast and impressive choreography, yet the ballet reveals the somber, serious side of the production, which is not prominent in any other scene.
To experience West Side Story yourself, purchase tickets online at www.plays411.net/westsidestory or call (323) 960-7712 to order via telephone.
Hudson Backstage Theatre
6539 Santa Monica Blvd
Hollywood, CA 90038
Nov 21 – Dec 21
Fridays / Saturdays at 8pm
Sundays at 2pm & 7pm
Running time (including intermission) is 100 minutes
Valet and street parking available
For more information on the Musical Theatre of Los Angeles, visit www.musicaltheatrela.com or www.myspace.com/mtla
You can also contact the producers:
Bonnie McMahan (Founder / Executive Director) [email protected]
Mindy Ruoff (President / Treasurer) [email protected]