Nothing says theatre better than men jumping into each other's arms gracefully while landing soft punches. The art of fighting on stage is a craft of ballet, dancing to a song you hear in your head with jabs of sharp violins and the underscore of the orchestra pit. Throw in lyrics and you've got yourself a musical.
West Side Story is the old tale of the weight of immigrant invasion into a society raw with the lack of irony, the hanging cloud of xenophobia and two gangs both from the wrong side of the tracks but not on the same station platform. In essence, a love story of not coming together unless with a switchblade or a boot to the jaw. A lively foretelling of Romeo + Juliet as directed by Baz Luhrmann from Omicron Persei 8.
As snapping fingers go, the first muffle quickly gives way to a chorus of middle fingers on thumb bases. The snapping, the clicking, all that jazz you expect from a Jets versus Sharks routine. If fingers aren't a snapping, this dance isn't happening. You don't pay money for a turn of West Side Story without the clicking. It's as essential to the story as songs such as "Tonight", "Maria" and "I Feel Pretty" pouring out honestly.
The casting is authentic, true. Can't understand half of what they're saying. A testament to employing actors who can speak the Spanish with a flurry and leave the largely monolingual audience rapt with the temper of it all. The Sharks and their girls showing a range of emotion as they banter, bicker and backtalk to each other. There are no subtitles in live theatre, so you feel the essence of being in another part of town. Even when Anita (Michelle Alves) is talking in English the normal speed of speech makes it hard to pick up in places. That's the kind of tongue that stays true to its mother.
The heat of rivalry seethes menacingly between Riff (Theo Lencicki) and Bernardo (Andrés Acosta) as they lead their sides down to the climatic fight scene. Both Lencicki and Acosta are convincing as leaders others will follow. They contrast the smooth & suave and rough & ready well.
For a recent former lead gang member, Tony (Addison Reid Coe) doesn't look anything like having ever been part of the gutters in the last few years. So the call for the current ranks of Jets to bring the old man back is trying to capture a lead that walked away for pacifism a long time ago. Coe is more confident in song than standing down two rival gangs. But it pales against Maria (MaryJoanna Grisso) who holds the weight of it all ably.
You can read between the hem lines if you want to, and there's a scene in the bridal shop with Maria and Anita that lays on the racial identity card with lace. First lamenting that her dress will be the only white one there, Maria then clicks to the joy of being the only one in a white dress. Superficially you can call this bait as dressing up your skin, wanting to jump ship first decrying the whites and then wanting to be one. Then falling in love with one. Of course, if we're reading that far into what makes for dress fabrics, we may be overthinking it.
The language of the split between the Irish Jets and Puerto Rican Sharks feels like a modern day walk around an ethnic neighbourhood. Throwing around their respective racial epithets and slurs, the ear stays firmly square in the 50s. Or whenever it was hip to dig such dialogue for a band of groove cats jiving up alleyways and drugstores.
Makeup adds too much blush on bruises. Either they're rubbing each others' faces in gravel or they're just rashy. At one point their battle scars are more domino masks, large swathes of eye shadow across the eyes like Green Arrow in Arrow wearing a hoodie instead of a goatee.
Romance is in the air and we can feel the love from the hate. The sensual want of getting rid of the others. Of taking back your turf while not seeing a new generation mix with an older generation to bridge the gap of distrust. Love will conquer all. If hate doesn't get there first. Splendid rendition of one of the classics.
Three hours swing by with locked joints at the matinee performance at the Lexington Opera House on 17 November 2012. Book by Arthur Laurents, Music by Leonard Bernstein and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. Choreography by Jerome Robbins.
Reviewed on Thursday, 29 November 2012