Monday, November 20, 2017
Stage

'West Side Story,' still relevant decades later, opens at Show Palace Dinner Theatre

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HUDSON — The musical West Side Story was written in 1957, but it is as relevant today as it was then — as is the basis for the musical, William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, written in the late 1500s.

It's about racism, hatred of recent immigrants, violence, love, tragedy and, ultimately, hope.

The show runs Saturday through Feb. 14 at the Show Palace Dinner Theatre.

Set in mid-1950s New York City, it's the story of the street wars between two gangs. The Jets are white; the Sharks are Puerto Rican, many of them newly arrived. Despite the pleadings of police and friends, the two battle for turf in the back alleys and under the freeways of what is now the site for the Lincoln Center, but was a thriving, if poor, neighborhood in the 1950s.

The neighborhood is anchored by Doc's Drug Store, a place considered neutral ground by both gangs. Doc himself (Pete Clapsis, Narrator in The Rocky Horror Show) tries to smooth things over between the rivals, but the racial tensions are too high, and the gangs decide to duke it out the next night.

By that time, former Jets leader Tony has fallen in love with Maria (Jillian Rossi, debut), the sister of Sharks leader Bernardo (Jake Rura, debut). Bernardo also is the boyfriend of Maria's best friend, Anita (Heather Baird, Sister Sarah in Guys and Dolls).

Tony persuades the gangs to fight with fists only. But when they finally meet, things quickly get out of hand, the switchblades come out, and Bernardo stabs Jets leader Riff to death. In a fury, Tony kills Bernardo. Police sirens wail, and all but Tony flee.

From there, it's a series of misunderstandings, with false reports flying, anger escalating and betrayals abounding. Caught in the middle are the two lovers, Maria and Tony, who grasp for some way out of all the fury, knowing they will face overwhelming difficulties, no matter what happens.

West Side Story broke musical theater ground when it hit Broadway. Choreographer Jerome Robbins' athletic dance moves were like nothing anyone had seen on stage before. Critic Walter Kerr called its dance numbers "the most savage, restless, electrifying" in seasons. John Chapman tagged it a "Super-Modern Musical Drama … a juke-box Manhattan opera." Time magazine called it "a milestone in musical-drama history."

Leonard Bernstein's score and Stephen Sondheim's lyrics electrified audiences. Amid soft, moving melodies like Maria, Tonight, I Feel Pretty, the wistful I Have a Love and the humorous Gee, Officer Krupke, the composing duo placed tumultuous numbers like the foot-stomping America, the energetic Cool, the wild The Rumble and the savage Taunting.

The timeless West Side Story was a critical and financial success from Day One, has had multiple award-winning Broadway revivals and has become a favorite of theaters around the world. Its Show Palace cast of 25 is directed by Jill Godfrey, who also did the choreography. Godfrey did the same for A Chorus Line and The King and I, among other shows.

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