Scarily Relevant Once More: WEST SIDE STORY

Presented by North Shore Music Theatre
Beverly, MA
November 1- 20, 2016
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BOOK BY: Arthur Laurents
MUSIC BY: Leonard Bernstein
LYRICS BY: Stephen Sondheim
Director: Bob Richard
Music Director: Milton Granger
Choreographer: Diane Laurenson
Based on Conception of Jerome Robbins
Based on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet

Review by Craig Idlebrook

(Beverly, MA) How quaint – working class whites and Hispanics fighting for control of a few city blocks. West Side Story is a fun period piece hearkening back to a time when institutionalized racism was the norm and …

Oops. With white nationalism having gone mainstream, this play might provide an eerily precise roadmap of how our youth will handle these divided states of America in the next four years.

North Shore Music Theatre’s staging of this musical both honors the original spirit of which the play was staged and infuses it with youthful vitality and energy. Nothing is taken for granted by this fine cast, even though the actors know they have a killer songbook and a classic tale to fall back on for the hearts and minds of the audience. There is no one who doesn’t give maximum effort to make the action come alive on stage.  

The script is a sometimes too obvious update of Romeo and Juliet, set in the city streets of New York. Instead of sonnets and stanzas, these star-crossed lovers speak in staccato snatches that feel overheard in coffee houses where people play the bongos and wear berets. However, it is the music and the choreography of this show that has made it a classic throughout the years, and both make this staging of the play a hit now, as well. The precise, but gangly, choreography and the boisterous, but sweet, music combine to fill in a picture of a world of noise and sharp elbows, with just enough space for lovers to still dream.

While there are leads in this play, they truly blend together into one seamless unit in this production, as people are so rarely alone on stage. Each actor hits their mark, and allows for real moments of vulnerability on stage – never is the outcome so tragic as when the teens realize they have been backed into a corner with no other option than to commit violence.

In this post-election reality, we are now those children jockeying nervously for territory on streets that suddenly seem too narrow for peaceful coexistence. Let’s hope we can find a more graceful way to come together and heal.   

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