Tuesday, 23 October 2012 17:08

West Side Story Takes on Modern Vibe

Written by  Allison Parker
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West Side Story Takes on Modern Vibe COURTESY PHOTO

West Side Story
Miller Auditorium, Kalamazoo
Nov. 13-14; 7:30 p.m.
$25- $55
millerauditorium.com, (269) 387-2300

More than half a century after its original debut, West Side Story returns, ready to dazzle audiences anew with the plight of star-crossed lovers trapped within a ranging feud. Directed by David Saint, the Miller Auditorium performance is based on the 2009-2011 revival.

While the show features the same thrilling story and sweeping Broadway score audiences know and love, a new raw, urgent energy pulses through its veins. Light-hearted 1950s dialogue disappears, while rival gang, the Sharks, becomes more Spanish infused in the dialogue. This addition fuels the feud's prejudicial malice and unites it to a current, relevant tension.

"About 10 percent of the script is now Spanish and 'I Feel Pretty' is about 50-percent Spanish. It adds a little more reality to the show. It makes you feel like you are really in New York—the script is updated in that sense," said Addison Reid Coe, a Calvin College grad who plays male lead, Tony. "It makes you a fly on the wall, but they've done it so eloquently because pivotal moments will always be in English, so the audience can understand."

Spanish lines also add depth and authenticity to the characters. While past audiences have often tended to favor the Jets, a special emphasis on the Sharks' mother tongue equalizes the gangs. Through Spanish, the Sharks gain a stronger identity and a more humanizing emotional pull.

Other modern updates effective since the recent Broadway revival include edgy choreography changes, the joint project of the late Tony Award-winning librettist Arthur Laurents and veteran West Side Story choreographer Joey McKneely. Grittier, passionate movement moves the show into the 21st century, while still remaining faithful to the original Jerome Robbins choreography.
"Cool," "The Rumble" and "Dance at the Gym" are unchanged, while the second act ballet sequence and "America" have undergone the most dramatic transformations.

"'America' is one of the most fun songs," Coe said. "It's kind of like American pride ... The dance is so cool, and the Jets are really good dancers."

Despite its tougher feel, the magic of an impossible love still remains the show's most magnetic draw.

"Everybody's been in love ... it makes [the show] timeless—I think irresistible, almost," Coe said. "My favorite part, for me, would probably be the dance where [Tony] first meets Maria. It's so cool because you get to relive the first time you were captivated by someone."


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