Published on May 17th, 2012 | by Adnan M.2
West Side Story snaps its way into Toronto!
Dancap does it again! The city of Toronto was once again gifted with great theatre and this time, its none other than the legendary musical, West Side Story! Written by the late Arthur Laurents, West Side Story is set in the roaring 50′s and 60′s, in the Upper West Side neighborhood of New York City, where two gangs – the Puerto Rican Sharks & the white working-class Jets – are bitter rivals. In the mix of their rivalry, a young Jet by the name of Tony (Ross Lekites) falls in love with Maria (Evy Ortiz), the sister of the Sharks’ leader, Bernardo (German Santiago). Their love for one another takes them ever so deep into the chaos of the local rivalry, putting all their lives in risk. You, at this moment, are likely wandering where you may have heard a similar story before and you wouldn’t be wrong. The story behind musical was inspired by William Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet, with common elements seen throughout the entire production.
West Side Story first graced the stages of Broadway in 1957 at the Winter Garden Theatre. It played for a total of 732 performances, before going on tour and returning back in 1960 for a second run of 253 performances. Subsequent to the Broadway opening, the magical story was brought to Europe as well with the London production, which opened in 1958. Since then, this musical has been produced by many educational institutes and regional theatres, as well as a few Broadway revivals.
The 2009, and latest, revival is the show that is currently on tour in North America. However, in comparison to its 1957 ancestor, the show brings an interesting and rather refreshing twist to the original story: the use of Spanish dialogue in tandem with the original English dialogue. Arthur Laurents wanted to keep the musical contemporary, without affecting the production in any way. His intentions can clearly be seen in this production. Using Spanish dialogue helps add character to the Sharks, highlighting their Puerto Rican background and helping differentiate themselves from their rival counterparts, something that was more difficult in prior Broadway productions. Additionally, the use of a different language adds a cultural element that makes their characters & their interactions with others on stage, believable and interesting, adding alot of value to the whole theatre experience.
The cast performs above expectations, bringing on stage a blend of attitude, confidence & energy, truly making their characters shine. The production definitely had notable performances with Michelle Aravena hitting the top of the list. Her performance as Anita is beautiful. She embraces her characters Puerto Rican background, seamlessly shifting between English & Spanish dialogue without wavering the tone or affecting the strength of her performance. She is also a fantastic dancer, clearly seen when she performs “America” with the other Sharks girls. In fact, the women in this production have some of the strongest performances. Evy Ortiz successfully brings out the deep emotions expressed by her character, Maria, whilst still giving her character a subtle, quiet tone, a strong differentiating factor from the other more “expressive” Puerto Rican girls.
The gents perform brilliantly too. Each brings something different to make themselves and their characters stand out. Drew Foster highlights the typical 50′s street-boy attitude seen in his character Riff, while German Santiago brings to the forefront the expressive, tough guy attitude of his Puerto Rican character, Bernardo. However from all the boys in the show, no one stands out more than Ross Lekites as Tony. The one thing he does properly is make Tony different from everyone else, truly putting the spotlight on his character. His expressions, emotions, interactions are all very different from everyone else which allows the audience to see the connection between Tony & Maria and understand their love for one another. You have two opposing gangs, very different in nature, and from within their ranks are two individuals who simply connect. The chemistry between Lekites & Ortiz is just beautiful to see on stage.
What you have hear is a classic & elegant Broadway production done differently. What Laurents did was take his original work and add a bit of flare and this cast simply lives out his story on stage. West Side Story is a magical treat that will leave you wanting to see it again and again.
The production plays at the Toronto Centre for the Arts until June 3rd, 2012. Do not miss your chance to see this amazing Broadway masterpiece. For tickets, visit www.dancaptickets.com