I got lucky again on Sunday for the West Side Story matinee rush. Front row, center again for me, and I was digging it. These are some thoughts I wrote down immediately after the show:
In the Heights was so different in terms of experience. West Side Story is much closer to my heart because I listened to the record over and over again when my parents bought me a record player for Christmas when I was 14. I also feel that West Side Story is more about the dancing than a lot of other musicals, which you could see in the performers’ bios. Many of the cast members, rather than listing theatre experience, listed their dance experience.
The relevance is still so great, even 53 years after the original production was first staged. In 1957, it was revolutionary in its characterization, but today we continue to face similar issues with intolerance. Sometimes it really feels like the world has taken a step backward. If lessons learned in something like West Side Story can still be applied, it speaks volumes to our progress as a culture.
Some cool updates to this revival’s re-staging:
Lin-Manuel Miranda (that’s right, you remember him from In the Heights fame and glory) worked with the production to translate a lot of the script. For example, in the Tonight Quintet, which features the Jets, the Sharks, Maria, Tony & Anita, the Sharks sing basically their whole part in Spanish. Bits of scenes among the Puerto Rican characters were changed into Spanish, as was most of “I Feel Pretty” (“Me Siento Hermosa”).
I liked that aspect a lot, mostly because it engages the audience in a more real way. Those characters wouldn’t speak English to each other when alone, and when they do–as is the case often with Anita and Maria–they had it built into the character. As someone who prefers America to her native land, Anita is trying to become proficient in English and encourages Maria to do the same. It reminded me of my own Abuelita, who was always practicing English. My grandmother almost never speaks Spanish to us, and certainly my mother wouldn’t have become bilingual had it not been for Tita teaching them Spanish. It also reminded me of all the immigrants who always have been the founding fabric of our country. Most of them come to America because they still see a life of opportunity here. They work hard. They want what’s best for their families. Is that so different from what everyone wants? But I digress…
The other aspect that I liked, that really goes along with the above point, was the casting. Basically everyone who was a Shark was actually Hispanic. Maria, Anita, Bernardo and a few others were actually from places like Venezuela and Argentina. No faking an accent for our main character (sorry, Natalie Wood), she already had one. Overall, I just thought the performance was more genuine than the movie version, although I can’t compare it to previous Broadway productions.
This post is not to claim that the show was perfect. It was not. But I enjoyed it nonetheless. I cried when it was sad, I laughed when it was funny, and I got my Playbill signed afterwards.