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West Side Story

March 14, 2012

Reviewed March 13, 2012

NAC Southam Hall, Ottawa

Whether it’s set against the backdrop of feuding families in 16th century Italy or filtered into youth gang rivalry in 1950s New York City, forbidden love with a tragic end is the stuff of a good story that has resonated through time.

And West Side Story has been a perennial favourite since it hit Broadway more than 50 years ago. Based on Shakespeare’s star-crossed love tragedy, Romeo and Juliet, West Side Story tells the tale of Maria, sister of the Puerto Rican “Sharks” leader Bernardo and Tony, a member of the white working-class “Jets.” It’s a fine-tuned combination of drama, music and dance that over the years has worked its magic into our social consciousness, especially with recognizable and transformative Leonard Bernstein numbers such as “I Feel Pretty” and “America.”

Ross Lekites and Evy Ortiz as west-side lovers Tony and Maria, Photograph by Joan Marcus

The revived multi-million-dollar West Side Story production opened on Broadway three years ago and is now touring at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa until March 18.

The choreography, first created by the world-renowned Jerome Robbins and reproduced for the new production by Joey McKneely, is an integral part of this musical and weaves balletic movement with gritty realism, adding a stunning energy to the performance. McKneely first met Robbins when he danced in the latter’s award-winning Jerome Robbins’ Broadway.

James Youmans’ polished scenic designs and David C. Woolard’s colourful costumes are vivid and true to theme. The smooth transitions between scenes keep the energy at a high level.

A good many of the more than three dozen cast members are required to dance, act, sing a challenging range, and look like teenagers! Overall, they pull it off. In spite of a few weak spots – some of the voices, a scene or two, and perhaps the finale – the performance is big, bold and beautiful. It works because all the elements are there: love and war, conflict and resolution, and the magic and daring of youth.

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From → Spectacle

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