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Santa Maria Sun / Art

The following article was posted on July 13th, 2010, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 11, Issue 18 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 11, Issue 18

Roll over, Shakespeare

PCPA brings West Side Story--that American classic--to life

By HENRY HOUSTON


Love in America
Mindy Lym plays Maria and Zachary Ford plays Tony, who fall in love in the midst of street gang battles in West Side Story.
PHOTO BY LUIS ESCOBAR/REFLECTIONS PHOTOGRAPHY STUDIO
When Leonard Bernstein, Jerome Robbins, Arthur Laurents, and Stephen Sondheim met up, they wanted to see if they could bring their “acts together and do a work on the popular stage,” as choreographer Robbins said. The end result was a Broadway masterpiece, an American Romeo and Juliet, a great American Opera.

Today, more than 50 years since its inception, West Side Story is still one of the most relevant musicals to ever stand the test of time. Sure, we know now that the Von Trapp family got away from the Nazis, the ’60s let the sunshine in, and, yes, Annie did in fact get her gun. Though these shows offer great stories and divine harmonies, they don't carry as relevant a theme to their audiences as West Side Story does.

The story revolves around the romance of Maria and Tony, both trapped in the midst of a senseless gang war. The two sides are the Jets, headed by Riff, who started the gang with Tony; and the Sharks, a Puerto Rican gang led by Bernardo, Maria’s brother. They’re constantly battling to claim turf.

In the song, “America,” sung on the rooftops of the Sharks’ tenement building, the Puerto Rican women sing for their love of America: the opportunities and safety from hurricanes, which terrorized them on their island home. The men think otherwise. They lament about the prejudices they face: how a creditor will charge them twice once he sees they aren’t white and how their liberty allows them to be free only “to wait tables and shine shoes.”

The topic of immigration, which is a boiling controversy these days, surfaces in the play. Bernardo presents to the audience the American double standard: How Tony, a son of Polish immigrants, is considered to be American, but the Puerto Ricans, who have left their homeland, are only thought of as foreigners.

Bernstein and Robbins originally envisioned the setting of West Side Story as an abstract, urban locale, and that’s how director Michael Jenkinson approaches it. In fact, the whole theater feels like an urban setting.


I will take you away …
PCPA Theaterfest presents its production of West Side Story through July 25 at Marian Theatre in Santa Maria at Allan Hancock College, 800 S. College Drive. Tickets cost $26.25 to $30. The show moves to Solvang Festival Theater July 30 through Aug. 22. Info: 922-8313 or pcpa.org.
The audience at my show was packed in like a can of sardines, and the room temperature was rather high—many theatergoers were waving their programs to create a breeze. The stage was crafted to show an industrialized urban city, where everything is built the same, with little variety. The same cold, metallic buildings trap their inhabitants like prisoners who react like caged animals, lashing out at each other.

The “animals” in the play perfectly captivate the audience. Guest artist Zachary Ford, who plays Tony, faces a tremendous obstacle: living up to the original Broadway Tony. And Ford pulls it off. Not only does he hit the high notes demanded by the music, he adds believable giddiness after meeting the adorable Maria. He climbs the stage equipment like a crazed monkey and convinces the audience he has in fact fallen in love at first sight.

Mindy Lym, who plays Maria, takes the night away during the finale as she mourns. As the orchestral version of “Somewhere” quietly emanates through the speakers in the theater, Maria shrieks for her loss.

The violence begins within seconds after the lights go out in the house. The Jets and Sharks—through the original, matchless choreography by Jerome Robbins—are instantly thrown into the throes of a gang battle, where they only unite to provide snide remarks to agents of the law: Officer Krupke and Lt. Shrank.

Although the two rival gangs are fighting during the “Prologue,” it’s a most graceful battle—think of the rousing monologue from Shakespeare’s Henry V adapted into interpretive dance. The stunning choreography doesn’t end there, however. The apex of the show is hands-down during the dance at the gym, where Maria and Tony meet for the first time. The dance begins with hard jazz, and the dancers distort themselves with unorthodox gyrations. The gym scene is nearly a dance symphony, for it leads to other variations, including a mambo, ballet, and a polka.

As long as there are wrongly persecuted foreigners in the world—or maybe just youth in general—West Side Story will have an important place in the American library. It’s a piece of the country’s catalogue that asks the audience to think of how valuable life is, how beautiful love is, and, most importantly, how it all can fall apart in seconds.

Intern Henry Houston’s stories are important pieces in the Santa Maria Sun library. Contact him at intern@santamariasun.com.




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