CJSF volunteer, Frieda Warden reviews the Royal City Musical Theatre’s production of West Side Story…
West Side Story is 50 years old this year. I was 11 when it came out, and the music’s ingrained in my brain. My junior high chorus sang “I Feel Pretty” for the Lions Club. I spent hours listening to records (now called “vinyl”) of the soundtrack. I can whistle you all the tunes – especially the alto parts. But this is the first time I’ve actually seen the entire musical staged in its entirety.
The plot is basically Romeo and Juliet – teenage Puerto Rican and Polish immigrants replace Montagues and Capulets. The songs range from touching to funny, with many musical twists and surprises. Seeing it, I discovered that the music isn’t mainly about the lyrics, it’s about the dancing. Lyricist Stephen Sondheim was a novice in ‘58. The big collaborators were Leonard Bernstein as composer, Arthur Laurents for “the book,” and choreographer Jerome Robbins (all of whom turned 40 in 1958).
Robbins gets top billing in the program, and it’s easy to understand why: dance is the strong suit of the Royal City Musical Theatre. They’re a local nonprofit society founded in 1989. Part of their aim is to train young people for the musical stage, and they bring together professional and amateur performers in fully realized productions with costumes, sets, a sizeable pit orchestra, the works. Choreographer Valerie Easton does a bang-up job with young, spirited performers.
Last year, I saw RCMT’s 42nd Street, and it was almost perfect. West Side Story is in some ways tougher to pull off, but I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. RCMT only does one production a year, so go see this while you can.