West Side Story

West Side Story

Amanda Castro as Anita, Yurel Echezarreta as Bernardo, and the Company of West Side Story. Photo by Todd Rosenberg

 

 

 

Like every year, the Lyric closed its Opera season with a musical. This year it was West Side Story’s turn, a story that continues to be relevant after almost 70 years. Based on Romeo and Juliet, libretto by Arthur Laurents, with music by Leonard Bernstein and Steve Sondheim, and choreography by Jerome Robbins, West Side Story is firmly placed in Broadway’s canon. No other musical has as many recognizable songs, and very few others have been taken to the big screen with as much success as this one. 

The action takes place in an incredible stage representing an urban barrio. Romeo and Juliet’s balcony has been replaced by a fire escape, but that doesn’t get in the way of Tony and Maria confessing their love for each other, and in what way! Ryan McCartan’s rendition of “Maria” received a well-deserved, 3-minute ovation. His chemistry with Maria, played by the talented Kanisha Feliciano, is undeniable, and together, they inject the story with the ingenuity and the passion that new love brings, as well as the anxiety of trying to fight against something that has been plaguing humanity since before Shakespeare wrote about it: intolerance and how our need to belong will make us do stupid things. Instead of the Montagues and the Capulets, we have two rival gangs: the Jets, led by Tony’s best friend Riff, and the Sharks, led by Maria’s brother Bernardo. Riff and Bernardo will do everything in their power to separate the lovers.

West Side Story is a musical where, although focused on the couple’s struggles to be together, the real hero is Anita, Bernardo’s girlfriend. As the story begins, Anita is happy and joyful because she is living in “America” (the best number in the show), and by the end, she’s learned to hate and is completely hopeless. Yes, Maria loses a lover, but Anita loses much more. The role of Anita is an award winner because it’s the only character that has a clear arc. Kudos to Amanda Castro for her firecracker performance! 

Jerome Robbins’ choreography, a mixture of ballet and jazz, remains unaffected and vibrant, and the story of the star-crossed lovers continues to resonate as it highlights the issues that continue to divide society: immigration, racism, and misogyny. What can I say about the music that hasn’t been said before? Just that conductor James Lowe seems to have had a lot of fun playing the classics that we’re all familiar with. If you haven’t seen it, or if you’ve seen it one hundred times, do not miss it! 

 

 

West Side Story is showing at the Lyric Opera until June 25th.