Sunday, October 13, 2019

West Side Story—Stumptown Stages—downtown Portland



         The Story of Color…a Study in Black & White

    This classic musical reworking of Shakespeare’s Romer & Juliet, West Side Story, book by Arthur Laurents, music by Leonard Bernstein and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, is directed by Patrick Nims, choreographed by Christopher George Patterson and music direction by Adam Joseph Young, is playing at the Winningstad Theatre, 1111 Broadway, through October 27th.  For more information, go to their site at www.stumptownstages.org

    Although written over 50 years ago, the source material is a few hundred years older and yet, it seems, nothing much has changed.  Prejudice, Intolerance, and Discrimination raises their ugly heads wherever differences are noticed…whether in religion, sexual orientation, politics views, gender, cultural, color, etc.  “When will we ever learn…”  It is interesting to note that the few adults in the story are either fops or fools…the parents are never seen…leaving the POV and mechanics of the tale solely in the hands of the Youth.

    As the plot goes, the time is in the slums of NYC in the ‘50’s and is pretty much ruled by gangs, in this case the Sharks (the Puerto Ricans) and the Jets (Whites). Tony (Alexander Trull), one of the original founders of the Jets, 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, now led by Riff (Jacob Robert).  But his old pal has explained that they are finally going to have it out with the rival gang, the Sharks, led by Bernardo (Jordon Waters), and he needs Tony to come to the dance at the gym tonight, as moral support.  Tony agrees.

    But, as Fate would have it, Maria (Tina Mascaro), 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 (Kayah Alexander Franklin), Bernardo’s main squeeze, tries to emphasize.  Also, the police, under the command of Lt. Shrank (Jeremy Southard) and his trusty puppet, Officer Krupke (Darin MacLeod), have it in for all these punks, especially the P.R.’s.  Suffice to say, the cards are stacked against them and the timeclock ticking toward the inevitable showdown.  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.  One note, though, who is it at the end, who puts a shawl around the shoulders of Maria (an innocent, Latino)?  It’s Baby John (Jackson Wells), also an innocent (a White).  Can this be a sign of a more hopeful Future.  Let’s hope so.

    This is one of those plays where an actor needs not only their acting chops but also great singing voices, some super dance skills and even acrobatics to succeed.  And Nims has them in great multitudes here, as he leads them, along with Patterson, down the yellow-brick road over the rainbow.  And the difficult score, led by Young, is amazing.  The Designers, too, Costume (Margaret Louise Chapman), Scenic (Demetri Pavlatos), Sound (Rory Breshears) and Lighting (Harrison Moye), all should hare in this musical’s terrific success.

    And, wow, are there some outstanding dancers in the Gym scene, the Rumble, the opening and many more, blending Jazz, Ballet and Modern styles to the mix.  And the songs from operatic to ballad-like, demanding special voices.  Both Trull & Mascaro were perfect in rendering of Maria and Tonight, especially.  And one final kudo, to Allison Parker, as Anybody’s, the tomboy of the Jets, as she has some pipes on her that were thrilling when she sang, Somewhere, during the Dream Ballet number.  Wow!  She’s also a product of OCT’s Young Professionals Company, so am not surprised as to how good an actor and singer she is becoming.  She has quite a future on stage if she desires it.

    A couple of final observations:  The movie version (a multiple-award winner), swapped a couple of numbers from the play version, added males to the America number and cut some sequences which, I believe, is a better version overall of the play itself. 

    Also, my friend Dave and I were chatting after the play and trying to decide why/how kids go wrong as they mature.  Are they “hard-wired” for hatred and violence?  I don’t believe so.  There is a song in South Pacific called, Carefully Taught, where it espouses that children are “…carefully taught to hate and to fear” because, as children, they are pure Innocence, wanting to believe in Tolerance, Magic and Kindness but are slowly, expertly brainwashed by adult behaviors to a darker side of Life.  But it seems that the Youth are finally voicing their concerns, as they rise up against gun violence, global warming and hatred and inequities against minorities and women.  They put adult politicians to shame and, in our Young’s actions, there appears to be a silver lining into our current cloudy atmosphere.  “Somewhere a Place for Us…”  Go For It!

    I highly recommend this show.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.
--DJS
 

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