Yesterday, a few colleagues of mine and I went to see West Side Story for the first time. I might have judged others for liking musicals in the past, but that has changed. If I had to describe my experience in just one word I would say brilliant.
The play started with a few lads dancing very gayish which made me feel embarrassed as I had to hide my smirking while rolling my eyes. They started speaking ‘American’ when I exclaimed ‘I already love it’ (I live in Dublin). Then it developed into a beautiful piece of art as they conjoined the dancing with the music and the story, being one of the most successful stage shows of all time.
On the opening night of West Side Story in 1957, US Supreme Court justice Felix Frankfurter collared the composer Leonard Bernstein. “The history of America is now changed,” he told him, weeping with emotion. I am not sure if it was changed by it but it definitely changed my perception about musicals. The production is directed and choreographed by Joey McKneely using the full original Jerome Robbins choreography as Joey is the former assistant of Jerome Robbins. The play is very authentic making you shiver and projecting you in the 1957 Manhattan’s Upper West Side and explores the rivalry between two teenage gangs; one white(The Jets) , the other Puerto Rican(The Sharks). The singers are brilliant, especially Djalenga Scott (my favorite), who delivers a magnificent Anita (Puerto Rican) full of charisma, talent and humor. The play is inspired by the Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet, the most famous love story of all time and consequently love is naturally the play’s dominant and most important theme. The enmity between their families, coupled with the emphasis placed on loyalty and honor to kin, combine to create a profound conflict for Maria and Tony, who must rebel against their heritages/gangs. The symbols used by Shakespeare like poison are replaced by guns, the nurse used to explore the relationship between the comedy and the tragedy in Romeo and Juliet is replaced by Anita, Bernardo’s lover, in her comic role serving as a foil for Maria and Tony highlighting the couple’s youth and innocence as well as the pure and vulnerable quality of their love.
The Shakespearean motifs are beautifully combined with the contemporary ones that mark the history of America like racism and immigration, despite being the land of opportunities (“Everything is free in America” – Anita).