West Side Story

West Side Story

West Side Story
Book by Arthur Laurents
Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Music by Leonard Bernstein
Choreographed by Eric Yow
Directed by Julia Gagne
Starring Kyle Wait and Anneliese Moon
Valencia College Arts and Entertainment Theatre, Orlando FL

If there’s a defining moment in American Musical Theatre, it’s this work by Laurent, Bernstein and Sondheim. They re-imagined Romeo and Juliet as two lovers separated by the ethnic tensions of post war New York; Juliet hails from Puerto Rican, Romeo owes allegiance to Italy, and all feel the heel of the mighty money making Poles. We know “Love Conquers All” but of course it doesn’t, even on a musical stage complete with dancing, knife fights and clothes lines full of wash that rise and fall along with the emotions. And while the singing sometime sounds too reserved, the dancing always jumps over the top, making the choreography feels as exciting as Opening Night, 1957.

Two tribes battle over a weed strewn neighborhood: the Sharks in gleaming red flock to greased back and dangerous Bernardo (Zeshan Khan), the Jets follow the lead of blue jeaned Riff (Vinnie La Vigna). Bernardo has a sister Maria (Moon); she’s just about at Quinceañera. The big dance in Neutral Territory frames her hormonal debut, and it allows the Jets to approach the Sharks about a rumble. Why fight? Because the stakes are so low, and the opportunities so rare. Riff talks clean cut Tony (Wait) into joining their party; soon he’s dancing with Maria and everyone else is ready to dance with shivs. Fighters dance and lover’s love, and it’s one of the fastest romances on stage, from meeting to consummation to death in just under two acts.

Both Tony and Maria were seriously in love, and like all lovers they aren’t the most interesting people to watch even as they unite in “One Hand, One Heart” and “Tonight.” Riff’s side man Action (Nathaniel Stiger) pops out even with his few lines, as does Anybodys (Fabiola Urbinia) as the too-young-to-fight-but-old-enough-to-spy tomboy. In the macho world of high school gangland, she’s the one woman they trust with a shiv. Anita (Jade Rivera) is Bernardo’s wife, she approves of the fighting because she believes it relatively harmless and it fires up Bernardo’s passion. The adults crossing the stage are powerful yet clueless: Officer Krupke bends like rubber; he’s more clown than a cop, while his boss Schrank (Mike Acevedo) tries to keep the peace but only succeeds in giving the dancers a breathing break.

The pip of this production is the dance; every move stayed in sync and recreates the wild abandon of the old fashion Modern Dance ethos. Eric Yow did the work here; he must have drilled these kids for hours to get them to throw themselves to the edge, stop short, and never ever slip a break. I realize there are people out there who don’t like this show for any number of reasons, but this Valencia production just might change your heart. It’s the freshest take on a chestnut to be found this season.

For more information on Valencia College Theatre, please visit valenciacollege.edu/artsandentertainment/Theater/schedule.cfm/”>”>valenciacollege.edu/artsandentertainment/Theater/schedule.cfm/”> valenciacollege.edu/artsandentertainment/Theater/schedule.cfm/

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