Tuesday, July 5, 2016

West Side Story—Broadway Rose Theatre Company—Tigard, OR

A World Gone Awry

This classic musical is loosely based on Shakespeare’s, Romeo and Juliet.  The book is by Arthur Laurents, music by Leonard Bernstein and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim.  It was directed and choreographed on Broadway by Jerome Robbins.  This production is directed by Peggy Taphorn, choreographed by Jacob Toth and musical direction by Alan D. Lytle.  It is playing at the Deb Fennell auditorium at the Tigard High School, 9000 SW Durham Rd. in Tigard, through July 24th.  For more information, go to their site at www.broadwayrose.org

This world may have started out as a Garden but it has deteriorated hugely since then.  And what may express the theme of this play in a few words:  Doc, to a gang member, “You make this world lousy!”  Reply, from a gang member, “That’s the way we found it, Doc!”  Sad, but true.  Our children are going to pick up where we left off and, in the sorry state that it is in today, it may signal the beginning of the end.  I certainly hope not, though, as I think our Youth are smarter than that and that they will overcome the “sins of the fathers.”

But this basic story goes back to the immortal Bard.  Interesting thought, the parents are missing from  the tale and the only adult role models are weak or are sorry excuses for adults.  So the Youth are pretty much on their own and the story told from their perspective. Tony (Andrew Wade) is trying to go “legit,” has a job at Doc’s (Mark Pierce) drug store and is no longer an active member of the street gang of Jets, now led by Riff (Drew Shafranek).  But his old pal has explained that they are finally going to have it out with the rival gang, the Sharks (the “P.R.’s,” Puerto Ricans), led by Bernardo (Austin Arizpe), and he needs Tony to come to the dance at the gym tonight, as moral support.  He agrees.

But, as Fate would have it, Maria (Mia Pinero), Bernardo’s sister, is also at the dance and these two “star-crossed lovers” are immediately smitten with each other.  Of course, in their euphoric state, they do not see any color barriers that can’t be overcome.  But it seems the world is “too much with them,” as Anita (Kayla Dixon), Benardo’s main squeeze, tries to emphasize.  Also the police, under the command of Lt. Shrank (Garland Lyons) and his trusty puppet, Officer Krupke (Jeremy Southard), have it in for all these punks, especially the P.R.’s.  Suffice to say, the cards are stacked against them.  A turf war does break out with tragic results.  I can’t tell you the rest without spoiling it for some, but it does follow reasonably closely the Bard’s play.

This is my favorite musical!  It is almost perfectly constructed as a story and has an outstanding score, (with Shakespeare, Sondheim, Bernstein and Laurents as a team and Robbins at the helm, how could you go wrong?!).  I also had the honor of producing this show a number of years back and it won many awards.  So, to say the least, I am an unabashed fan.  And this production is absolutely amazing!  Taphorn has managed to do so much with a limited space and changing settings and yet keep the play moving at a brisk pace.  Also, her choice of cast is spot on.  And Lytle, steering the orchestra, is a perfect complement to this difficult score.

But, despite all the great music and acting, it is a dancer’s show (as that was Robbins forte in life) and with Toth in charge of that complex realm, it is in the hands of a master!  The opening of the show, the gym dance, “America,” The Rumble, and the dream ballet are some of the highlights of the show, due to the dancing.  It is beautifully staged and executed by Toth.  And the complimentary lights (Phil McBeth) and sparse but expressive set (Robert Andrew Kovach), add greatly to the success of the show.

Pinero and Wade, as the two major characters, have almost operatic voices and, at times, the theatre seemed almost too small to contain them.  Dixon was the perfect match for her counterparts on stage (Rivera) and screen (Moreno).  She is an astounding singer, dancer and actor (the acclaimed triple threat) and is perfect in this role.  I wish all of them, and the rest of the cast, who are very accomplished in all those areas as well, success, and not to forget, the beautiful rendition of “Somewhere” by Amber Kiara Mitchell.

Still powerful and topical after all these years, this will be one of the hallmark productions of this show.  Besides the above mentioned dance sequences, I was also impressed with the “Tonight” ensemble, Wade’s singing of “Maria,” both he and Pinero warbling of “One Hand, One Heart,” the Jet’s mocking, “Gee, Officer Krupke,” and the haunting duet by Pinero & Dixon of “A Boy Like That….”  All unforgettable!

It is a sad note that this type of story is still relevant today.  And it will continue to be so until we remove hate from out language and replace it with, as was so simply but eloquently put on the Tony Awards, “Love is love is love is love….”  And it’s not so difficult to get to that place.  All one has to do is just put one foot in front of the other…and continue on until the task is completed.

In case you haven’t guessed, I highly recommend this production.  And if you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.