On Wednesday night I went with friends to Beef’n’Boards Dinner Theatre on the northwest side of Indy to see “West Side Story” – book by Arthur Laurents, music by Leonard Bernstein, and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim.
I had never seen a staged version before, only the 1961 Academy Award-winning movie. The movie was adapted from the 1957 Broadway production, which was directed and choreographed by Jerome Robbins. Wikipedia says that this was Sondheim’s Broadway debut.
I imagine that when this show first appeared it was considered edgy (or daring or whatever they called “edgy” back in the late 1950s.) In some ways, the show seems quaint now. The “Bop! Bam! Daddy-o!” language, for example. The clean-cut “juvenile delinquent” clothes, for another. The stylized violence, for another.
Also, sadly, the issues of gang murders, racial tensions, and prejudices against teens and immigrants are on everyone’s radar every day now. They are more challenging than ever, but they are also ordinary rather than shocking here in 2008.
On the other hand, in some ways the passions in this piece are all the more moving for being expressed so innocently.
In any case, the songs in this show are still intriguing. “Tonight” is the still the best-ever song to sing loudly in the shower when you are getting ready to go out. I had forgotten that. “I Feel Pretty” is still a fun song to sing when you are trying on outfits in front of the mirror or putting on your makeup. You can change the word “gay” to “blithe” in the lyrics, as they did in the B&B production, if you want.
The dancing is still exciting, too, still fun to watch and imitate. No matter what kind of shape you’re in, when you get home from this show you will probably hunch over and snap your fingers a few times in the living room before you go change into your pajamas. You won’t be able to help it. “Stay cool, boy!”
And the story is basically that of Romeo and Juliet, which will probably resonate with audiences forever.
There are two teen gangs in a certain neighborhood in Manhattan: the Sharks (Puerto Rican immigrants) and the Jets (2nd-or-more generation Irish-American or Italian-American or anyway “white.”) One of the adults in the story calls them “micks and spics.” As you might expect, the two gangs do not get along.
One of the Jets, Tony (played in the B’n’B production by Loren Christopher) works at the local drugstore and tells its compassionate owner, Doc (played by Lew Hackleman) that he is ready for something…more. But his best buddy, Riff (played by Timothy Ford), is eager to have a rumble with the Sharks. Riff convinces Tony to go with him and the other Jets to a community dance, where the details of the rumble – location, type of weapons, and so on – will be negotiated. Tony reluctantly agrees.
Meanwhile, Bernado (Joshua Gunn) and his Sharks are getting ready, too. His young cousin, Maria (Evy Ortiz), has just arrived from Puerto Rico. He and his girlfriend, Anita (Monique Alhaddad), are very protective of her.
So of course, Tony and Maria fall in love at the dance.
The cast on Wednesday night seemed a bit tentative at first. I enjoyed the show right from the beginning, but at first it seemed a little “rough.” I know that “rough” is a vague term, but it is the best I can do.
However, at the dance scene, I began to feel more deeply engaged. The chemistry between Christopher and Ortiz is lovely. I cried when Christopher sang “Maria.” It was so romantic! When he and Ortiz sang together “One Hand, One Heart” and “Tonight” and later, “Somewhere,” my eyes just leaked and leaked.
I cried when Maria and Anita sang their two duets, too: “A Boy Like That” and “I Have a Love.” The program says that Ortiz is a lyric coloratura soprano. Alhaddad’s website says she is a mezzo soprano. I don’t really know what either of these terms means, but I loved the beauty of the individual voices and the richness when they blended.
There are only a handful of other Jets and Sharks, which at first doesn’t seem like enough compared to the crowds in the movie, but it turns out to be just the right amount. They fill the B’n’B space with their energy, talent, and grace.
The other guy Jets besides Tony and Riff are: the hot-tempered Action (Kenny Shepard), the timid Baby John (Kyle Durbin), and the dependable Diesel (Jonathan Cable.) The youngest girl Jet, a tomboy with the unfortunate name of “Anybodys,” is played by Stephanie Pam Roberts. The two saucy Jet girlfriends are Graziella (Kate Goetzinger) and Velma (Megan Wean.)
The suave and macho Bernado, as I mentioned earlier, is played by Joshua Gunn. The other guy Sharks include Maria’s wholesome escort, Chino (Nicky Romaniello) plus Indio (Jason D. Bush) and Pepe (Joel Frank.) In addition to Anita, there are two Shark girlfriends: Rosalia (played by Sally Mitchell) and Consuelo (played by Celia Shea.) Mitchell and Shea, along with Ortiz, bring a real sweetness to the “I Feel Pretty” dance number.
Adam O. Crowe plays the blustery Officer Krupke. Michael Davis plays the ineffectual but well-meaning dance chaperone, Glad Hand, and the obnoxious Lt. Shranke.
For the B&B production, Douglas E. Stark directed and Ron Morgan choreographed. Musical direction was by Debbie Myers, sound design by Daniel Hesselbrock, and technical direction by Bill Mollencupp. The stage managers are Ed Stockman and Elizabeth Stark.
The set, designed and lit by Michael Layton, has a nifty turn-table piece that moves us from the cement-covered park to Doc’s drugstore in moments. Sometimes the lighting looks as syncopated and full of contrasts as the music and dancing. It is an effective combination. Crepe party streamers come down to let us know when we’re at the dance. There is a fire escape stairway off to one side downstage, leading up to Maria’s bedroom on a little platform that is a sort of second stage. There is also a chain-link fence which I couldn’t see very well, but which sounded cool as people scrambled over it.
Up and to the other side is another small platform for the feisty orchestra, which consists of Debbie Myers on keyboard, Ernie Coleson on woodwinds, David Coleson on trumpet, Tim Kelly on percussion, and Kristy Templet on “keyboard/synth.”
Brian Horton designed the period costumes. I especially loved the sexy-frilly party dresses.
The last time I reviewed a B’nB show (“Run for Your Wife” earlier this month), I went by myself and described the overall B’n’B experience as well as my impressions of that particular show. This time I went with three friends. It really is a lot of fun to go to this particular theatre with friends or family, especially people that you know you like but don’t know well, or (I imagine) people whom you love but don’t get to see very often. The socializing aspect of the evening is just so comfortable, so luxurious: there is enough time for talking without feeling rushed or limited, but not so much open time that you start wondering what else to say.
As usual, I enjoyed hearing the announcer tell who else was there. On Wednesday night there was a very large Lyons group visiting from out of town. A 10-year-old girl and several men were celebrating their birthdays (not all in the same group!) One couple was celebrating their first wedding anniversary, another their fifteenth, and another their thirty-fifth, I think. There were lots of VIP club members, too. By the way, two of my friends are VIP members, so at intermission the four of us split the two free desserts: yummy carrot cake!
When the pre-show announcer told about each of the show banners on the back wall, a lot of people cheered when they heard that “Smoke on the Mountain: Homecoming” would have all the same cast as last summer’s show. My own ears perked up when I heard that Jeff Stockberger would be in “Peter Pan.” He was so goofy-sexy in “Run for Your Wife.”
But first, “West Side Story” runs at the Beef and Boards Dinner Theatre through March 22. Please call 317-872-9664 to make a reservation.
Hope Baugh – www.IndyTheatreHabit.com