Sharks, Jets, Dancing, and Snapping.
That’s only part of what I experienced when I saw West Side Story at the Wharton Center (Yay student ticket rates!). There was also a girl crying, but I’ll get to that later.
West Side is loosely based off of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. I loathe that play completely, and you would think I’d hate the musical. But I dont. Mostly because there is so much more to the show than Romeo (Tony) and Juliet (Maria)
In case you know nothing about the show, let me set it up for you: The Jets (White hoodlums) and The Sharks (Puerto Ricans) are at ‘war’ with each other, obvious parallels to the Montagues and the Capulets. At the beginning of the musical Riff (Jets leader) says that its time for the two gangs to have a ‘war council’ and settle their dispute once and for all at the dance later that night. Cue more dancing and some singing, then on to meeting Tony. Tony works at Doc’s store, and hasn’t really been hanging around with the Jets lately. However, Riff convinces Tony to go to the dance, and they part ways. Next up is meeting Maria, Anita, and Bernardo (leader of the Sharks). Bernardo is Maria’s older brother, and Anita’s boyfriend. They go to the party and so on and typical Shakespearean like tragedy ensues. However this musical offers a new twist; it ends with Juliet (Maria) alive, but with her Tony dead.
When the musical debuted in the 1950’s it shocked the Broadway world. Not only because it employed and displayed Puerto Ricans in a positive manner, but it addressed issues that the public did not care to. The first example of this being the difference in race.
Obviously the Jets and Sharks are of different decents. This difference is a gateway for them, and a theme for their insults. They seem to use race to be fighting one another. But in actuallity, they’re fighting because society has given them no other outlet for their frustrations. The Sharks always end up blatently mistreated by the police. Although the police tell the Jets that they’re on their side, they still treat the Jets like miscreants (Example would be the song “Officer Kruptke” (Almost sounds like corrupt doesn’t it? Hmmm..)
Then there’s the gender themes in the Peurto Rican, and white community. Anita complains that her brother brought her to America and all she does is sew. Later on in the play Bernardo says that women do not know their place. Riff snaps towards his girlfriend to ‘command’ her to come over to him at the dance. Anita does against what her brother wants her to do (Marry Chino) and tries to run off with Tony. Which as we all know, doesn’t happen. And then, there’s Anybodys.
Anybodys is a tomboy who follows the Jets around looking to become one of them. Anybodys represents this new kind of woman, feeling that she can do a man’s job, if only given the chance. However it seems that Anybodys only had one choice, either walk the streets (A Jet alludes to her sister being a prostitute), or become like one of the guys to survive. Anybodys has no place, she doesnt want to sell herself, she wants a family. A family she thinks she can find with the Jets. She’s an interesting character to me because although she is trying so hard to be one of the boys, all she really wants is to recognized as a person.
On to one of my favorite things: The Music.
Favorite song: Tie between Tonight and Somewhere.
Tonight: Most romantic song I’ve ever heard. Its probably super corny, but I cant help it, I love it. With lyrics like :
It all began tonight
I saw you and the world went away”
“For here you are
And what was just a world is a star
The world is wild and bright
Shooting sparks into space”
Seriously, I cant not love this song. Its just beautiful. The other interesting thing about how its performed is that its just Tony and Maria on her balcony singing to each other. No fancy choreography, just them, singing their hearts out. (Actually its really the only time I like Tony and Maria.)
This whole song is about finding your own place. Which is fitting, because Anybodys sings it. The number was beautifully choreographed, and the cast was wearing very simple, neutral colors. Neutral because finally thats what they were, at peace. However, this sequence is only a dream, for in the next few minutes people die. (Yeah, this musical is a bit of a downer).
Overall I enjoyed this production. I have to admit, I laughed when the gunshot sound effect went off and a woman in the audience screamed. (I couldn’t help it!) The only thing I did not enjoy was the girl next to me who was basically crying her eyes out towards the end (Did she not realize its based off of a Shakespearean tragedy?). It was a little weird, but I guess if the theater moves you to do so.. then who am I to argue?
Anyways, pretty good show, I looke forward to seeing more as the year progresses
Sharks and Jets forever