I’ve always had a soft spot for musicals, so, when I got the chance to attend Neptune Theatre’s production of West Side Story last night as part of their Word of Mouth program, I was delighted.
The classic tale of star-crossed lovers, inspired by Romeo and Juliet, takes place against a background of racial prejudice and street violence in Manhattan. The Sharks, a newly formed gang of Puerto Rican immigrants, are battling for turf with the Jets, an established gang of white Americans, many of whom are the children of immigrants themselves. Though the story is told with a lot of street slang that’s dated to our ears, it doesn’t matter. The conflict is timeless.
Tony, the founder of the Jets, now out of the gang, falls in love with Maria, the young sister of Bernardo, commander of the Sharks. Their love sparks a gang war, with tragic consequences. It isn’t difficult to imagine the story playing out on inner-city streets today.
I expected to see a lot of high-octane dancing and passionate acting, and I wasn’t disappointed. Choreographer Jim White has done a masterful job. I was sitting near the front of the hall, and the energy onstage hit me in waves. Chino (Dani Jazzar), second in command of the Sharks, radiated danger. Tomboy Anybodys (Allison MacDougall) made me smile. The Jets’ number “Gee, Officer Krupke” had me laughing out loud. In particular, Stephenos Christou as Maria’s brother Bernardo and Dayna Tietzen as his girlfriend Anita came close to stealing the show. Together they sizzled, and separately, Tietzen’s passion matched Christou’s menacing anger.
Anwyn Musico as Maria brought a lovely mix of innocence and charm to the role. Her strong soprano voice handled the music very well. I felt that she could have showed more angst at times, but she poured plenty into the final scene of the show, where she needed it most. Her Tony, Liam Tobin, impressed me with his handling of the music as well. Though Tobin didn’t give Tony the edge one might expect from a former gang leader, he still shone. I couldn’t help wishing the story could end happily for him and Maria, and isn’t that what a tragic romance should do? As a whole, this show was a real treat.