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Review of West Side Story at the Ordway in St. Paul, MN

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Quote of the Day: Why do you kids live like there’s a war on? Doc, the store owner in the stunning and heartbreaking musical West Side Story by Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim, on stage now through April 16, 2017 at the Ordway Performing Arts Center in St. Paul, MN. Directed by Bob Richard, Choreography by Diane Laurenson, and music direction by Raymond Berg. And, wow, is it a powerful performance.

Desiree Davar as Anita and Alexander Gil Cruz as Bernardo with the ensemble of West Side Story (photo by Rich Ryan)

If only we could solve all our disputes with a dance off….if only that had worked for the Sharks and the Jets, Tony and Maria in West Side Story. If only, we’d set our differences aside and rewrite the ending to all these tragedies and end all the senseless violence and death. My mom says, “The two saddest words in the English language are, if only.” 

The Jets in West Side Story at the Ordway in St. Paul, MN. Photo by Rich Ryan

West Side Story is Bernstein and Sondheim’s re-imagining of Shakespeare’s classic Romeo and Juliet. Instead of the two wealthy feuding families the Montagues and the Capulets, we have the feuding gangs of New York City, the Sharks and the Jets. Their parents aren’t even in the picture. Maria has recently come to America from Puerto Rico to live with her brother and to have a better life. Tony is a member of the Jets, but wants out. He’s working for Doc and dreaming of a better world which he sings about in Something’s Coming, and later in Somewhere, there’s a place for us

Despite Tony’s idealism and efforts, and Maria’s pleas for peace, the feuding gangs clash in a deadly rumble. Well, you know the story, and if you don’t, I’m not going to say anymore. The young ladies in front of us said at the end of the show, “I didn’t see that coming.” (Not everyone is exposed to as much theater as I am.)

Alexander Gil Cruz as Bernardo and the Sharks in West Side Story at the Ordway in St. Paul, MN. Photo by Rich Ryan

So, why do we keep watching and telling these tragic stories? Because they reflect life. Because we connect to the emotions. Because we still have hope that in seeing, hearing, and talking about these tragedies that we’ll learn something. We’ll find a new way of living…a new way of forgiving…somehow…someday…somewhere. You might know some of the more popular songs from West Side Story: Tonight, Maria, America, I Feel Pretty. The one that silenced the crowd and took my breath away was Somewhere. The stage changes from the streets of NYC to white and heaven-like. Tony and Maria sing of a place where they can be together, where there is peace, and people find a better way. They are joined by the dancers from both gangs, who move beautifully together in a ballet of hope and promise, only to be interrupted by the reality of the tragedy that has just happened. 

Tyler Michaels as Tony in West Side Story (photo by Rich Ryan)

We also go for the music, gorgeous costumes, powerful dancing, the characters we love, and the voices of the singers that reach in and grab all your emotions. The crowd was absolutely still during Tyler Michaels’ (Tony) Maria. I’ve seen Tyler at the Guthrie charming us in roles with some singing. I saw him flying like a graceful bird in Peter Pan at the Children’s Theater and Theater Latte Da’s Peter and the Starcatcher. When he played Bobby Vee at the History Theater, we got more of his voice, but he was fitting it into the character. I felt I hadn’t gotten the full Tyler Michaels. We get the full Tyler Michaels as Tony at the Ordway. His voice is powerful, sweet, filled with longing and hope, and reached out to the far spaces of the theater, into the rafters, and up to Heaven. Simply excellent.  

Evy Ortiz (Maria) melted our hearts in her arias of love and innocence. Desiree Davar (Anita) absolutely blew me away with her powerful voice, her strong character, and her bold and sexy personality. I loved her, and felt bad for her, and totally understood her motivation for every action. She warns us, too, before the rumble that the men get all worked up after a fight. She was looking forward to the passion and being with Bernardo after the brawl. Things didn’t work out the way she’d hoped. 

Desiree Davar as Anita and dancers in West Side Story at The Ordway in St. Paulm MN. Photo by Rich Ryan

The dancing is powerful and stunning.  Tyler John Logan is absolutely brilliant as Riff, leader of the Jets, and Alexander Gil Cruz is his strong counterpart as the leader of the Sharks. All the dancers are beyond fabulous with moves both strong in ballet, traditional musical theater, and choreographed fights. The score, too, is a mix of opera and musical theater, something Bernstein said that he worked hard to achieve.

You can see West Side Story at the Ordway Performing Arts Center in St. Paul, MN through April 16, 2017, a run that is not nearly long enough for this amazing production. You do not want to miss it.

Thank you to the Ordway for press tickets to view and review this brilliant show.

More details from the Ordway’s press release:

The Ordway is excited to present West Side Story, April 4-16. From the first notes to the final breath, West Side Story is one of the most memorable musicals ever written. Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet is transported to 1950s New York City, where two young idealistic lovers find themselves caught between warring street gangs. Their struggle to survive in a world of hate, violence, and prejudice is one of the most innovative, heart-wrenching, and relevant musical dramas of our time. With an unforgettable score that includes such iconic songs as “Something’s Coming,” “Tonight,” “Maria” and “I Feel Pretty.”

The cast will feature Tyler Michaels as Tony, Evy Ortiz as Maria, Desiree Davar as Anita, Tyler John Logan as Riff, Alexander Gil Cruz as Bernardo and Dean Andre de Luna as Chino.

Rounding out the cast are Rush Benson, Bob Beverage, Morgen Chang, James Michael Detmar, Gabrielle Dominique, Mollie Fischer, Andy Frye, Larissa Gritti, Patrick Charles Jeffrey, Kayla Jenerson, Emily Madigan, Abby Magalee, Lauren Masiello, Dario Mejia, Giselle Mejia, Joey Miller, Bryan Charles Moore, Pedro Rangel, Mark Rosenwinkel, Ashley Selmer, Carl Schoenborn, Jordan Weagraff and Josh Zacher.

This Ordway production will be brought to life through a collaboration with artistic leaders from the Twin Cities community, including Teatro del Pueblo’s artistic director, Al Justiniano. The project is fueled by a collaborative investment by both organizations in the training of diverse artists in the Twin Cites community over a two-year process.

“With a show like West Side Story, we knew how important it was to involve our community. But, we also recognize that there are often disparities in the training opportunities young actors of color receive,” said James A. Rocco, Ordway’s vice president of programming and producing artistic director. “We’re thrilled to have been able to partner with Teatro del Pueblo to offer a series of free classes that cover the fundamentals of musical theater performance. Our goal is to not only prepare local actors to audition for shows like West Side Story and this fall’s In the Heights, but to also build equitable relationships, lift communities and engage diverse artists.”

West Side Story is directed by Bob Richard, with choreography by Diane Laurenson and musical direction by Raymond Berg. The production’s creative team includes James Youmans (scenic design), Karin Olson (lighting design), Andy Horka (sound design), Mark Koss (costume design), Rick Polenek (props design), Robert A. Dunn (hair and make-up design) and Reid Harmsen (casting).

West Side Story features music by Leonard Bernstein, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and book by Arthur Laurents, with original concept and choreography by Jerome Robbins. It opened on Broadway in 1957, running for 732 performances and garnering six Tony Award nominations, including Best Musical. In 1961, a film adaptation was released which received public and critical praise and went on to win 10 Academy Awards, including Best Picture.

West Side Story is part of the Ordway’s 2016-17 Musical Theater Series, sponsored by Bremer Bank.

Go. Create. Inspire!

Journaling Prompt: What does a peaceful world look like to you?

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