West Side Story
By Arthur Laurents, Leonard Bernstein, and Steven Sondheim
Directed by Be Boyd
Starring Luke Bernard, Brandon Peters, Samantha Freistat, Carlos Aviles
UCF Conservatory Theatre, Orlando, FL
Mix gangbangers with ballet students, and your likely to get this bloody and surreal classic of American musical theater. In post war Manhattan, the Polacks and the PRs fight over a small sliver of asphalt and the right to call themselves “American.” The Slavic Jets out number the Hispanic Sharks, but the Sharks are better dancers and when Jet Tony (Bernard) falls for nubile Maria (Freistat), full-scale war looms. That’s the rule of the street – hit me, call me names, but NEVER touch the women. A tense school dance is neutral territory, giving Jet leader Riff (Peters) a chance to call out hefe Shark, Bernardo (Aviles). What ought to have been a “fair fight” leaves Bernardo and Riff dead and Tony on the run. He has just enough time for a quickie with Marie before getting shot by cuckold Chino (Abdullah Zainol), leaving Lt Schrank (Dave Scarfskin) and officer Krupke (Nathan Smith) to sweep up the corpses.
Despite it size and scope, West Side Story is a robust musical and UCF makes the most of the story with its large talent pool. The dancing (choreographed by Tim Ellis) excelled, with only a few loose chorus dancers in the back row missing beats. Riff and Anita (Julie Gordon) over shadowed the clean cut Tony and tentative Maria, although Anita and Maria had some very enjoyable moments. Aviles showed the classic hot headed Latin attitude toward women, and as a supporting gang member Action’s (Brock Yurich) skin head psycho look and attitude drove the action in the big rumble scene. Of the adults, Doc (Andrew Clateman) seemed the most realistic, even though he technically aided and abetted a murder by hiding Tony and giving him money. Tony and Maria seemed like a nice couple, but it was Anita and Bernardo that spray sex sparks over everything on stage. Behind the scenes we had a full orchestra lead by Nathaniel Beversluis which made the classics “Maria”, “America” and “Gee, Officer Krupke” really pop.
Loosely based on Romeo and Juliet, West Side Story is slightly less bloody (Maria survives) and the kids make up their own bad advice rather than getting it from adults. Once you accept the whole conceit of a knife fight set to modern dance, the show build an internal logic that lacks the wince factor of the original. The stakes are high, the promise of forbidden love timeless and the silhouette back drop of the Brooklyn bridge looks like it goes all the way back to the islands. Your never far from a hit song, a nervous joke, or a Fosse inspired dance, and whether you’re a Shark or Jet in really life, tonight you live in a dream for just a few hours.
For more information on UCF Conservatory Theatre, visit http://www.theatre.ucf.edu