The story on West Side Story

Troika Productions, West Side Story, Jerome Robbins, Vancouver theatre, Vancouver editor

The dancers in Troika Productions’ West Side Story get high on Jerome Robbins’s choreography

One of the arguments against non-Equity touring productions, such as Troika Entertainment’s West Side Story, which is at the QE until this weekend, is that patrons get sucked into paying inflated high prices to see performers who have never appeared on the Great White Way. This West Side Story ain’t cheap—85 bucks will get you a seat in the last row—and many of the actors are still in training. But they’re also very good. 

West Side Story is, of course, a retelling of Romeo and Juliet. Tony, a white New Yorker, falls in love with Maria, recently arrived from Puerto Rico. Gang fighting ensues and people end up dead.

But there’s a lot of terrific singing, dancing, and storytelling along the way. This musical is so beautiful in its conception that many of its elements are pretty much guaranteed to bring tears to my eyes. On opening night of this run, I choked up within seconds: Jerome Robbins’s choreography, which is well executed by this young company, is just so frickin’ cool—all of those balletic moves set to a jazzy score sending street toughs flying through the air. And the moment in which Tony and Maria first spot one another at a dance, the mambo music slows down, and everybody else in the auditorium falls away: another tear-jerker.

You’ve got to have talent to make it all work, though. As written, Tony is such a dweeb that the character is one of the most difficult roles in musical theatre. In this mounting, Jarrad Biron Green makes him downright hot. Green is handsome, he can float Tony’s high notes, of which there are many, and, impressively, he makes Tony an impetuously compelling and movingly openhearted young lover. (All of this from a guy who hasn’t completed his B.M. at NYU.)

Maryjoanna Grisso also rocks it as Maria. She’s tiny, but her soprano voice easily outpowers Green’s sweet tenor. And the girl can act. When she declares her love—”Te amo, Anton”—she’s so vulnerable that it’s a heartbreaker.

The one stinky performance of the evening comes from Michelle Alves, who plays Anita like a drag queen doing a half-time show. The woman almost never stops tossing her skirts and posing. Briefly, she finds some truth in the scene in which Anita is sexually threatened by Tony’s friends but, by the end of that scene, she’s back to milking every line as if it were her last.

Throughout, director David Saint leans towards vulgar innuendo and he’s chosen a version of the script that includes so much Spanish that big chunks of scenes and songs were lost to me. He manages to screw up both “America” and “Officer Krupke”, two of the most hilarious numbers in the show. “America” works better with the men in it, and “Officer Krupke” works better when the sexual allusions aren’t pushed so hard it feels like somebody is grinding in your face.

That said, Saint’s production is generally successful. He reimagines “Somewhere” as a vision of a particularly bright heaven, he gets deeply felt performances out of most of his leads, and the cuing is impeccably tight.

This is a solid production. I don’t think ticket buyers are getting ripped off.

About Colin Thomas

Colin Thomas is a Vancouver-based editor, an award-winning playwright, and an established theatre critic. Colin helps writers unlock the full potential of their novels, short stories, screenplays, and children's books.

Comments

  1. Ryan Mooney says:

    Hey Colin – just saw West Side tonight and agree with some of what you’re saying here (I thought the Anita seemed to be acting in a different show), but wanted to correct one thing… Only in the movie was America done with the men in it (wasn’t that way in the original, or most productions I’ve seen) – I don’t mind it simply because it’s a chance for the women to show off a bit in a pretty male dominated show.

    I didn’t mind the overt sexuality in Krupke either… you may remember from the movie that they actually place “Cool” in that spot and “Krupke” before the rumble. The switch was made because in a movie you don’t need to necessarily “pick people up” after a murder… whereas act two could lag a bunch with no comedic relief… at least in the 50’s when it was written.

    Thanks for the great review and discussion.

  2. Hi Ryan,
    Thanks for writing and thanks for the clarification about “America”. The variations between stage and movie versions can get confusing.
    Best,
    Colin

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