|West Side Story at Neptune Theatre in Halifax, NS|
Back in December, I wrote a review of The Wizard of Oz, which was put on my Neptune Theatre in my hometown of Halifax. At the time I mentioned that one of the perks of being a blogger is that occasionally people think you’re cool and they give you stuff. (Oh, how I have them fooled! Anyone who knows me can tell you that I am by no means cool. Charming, yes. Cool, no.) In any case, the lovely people at Neptune have invited be back since and last Wednesday I had the pleasure of seeing their production of West Side Story.
West Side Story is one of those stories so ingrained in the collective pop culture consciousness that it’s hard to remember if you’ve actually seen it before, or just know about it through osmosis. It turns out that I knew very little about West Side Story before I went to see it at Neptune.
If I saw the movie as a kid, I was too young to understand it. I knew it was a musical about rival gangs. In fact, I knew almost all of the songs. I knew there would be gangsters who dance and snap their fingers and, frankly, those are the only kinds of gangsters I can really relate to. But I didn’t know that racial issues played such a huge role in the plot. Somehow I’d managed to miss the “Go back to where you came from!” theme.
One reason for this is that when I did see a production of West Side Story a few years ago, girls played the roles of both Tony and Maria. Yes, a local church put on a production of West Side Story and for whatever reason (I’m really not sure why) they chose to have two girls in the lead. Look, it was an ambitious update. It just didn’t really work. Maria still sang a song with lyrics about a boy, so I was immediately confused – am I supposed to think the other character is a boy? No, no I wasn’t. I think her name was Antonia. It was a valiant attempt, but since I was to believe that no one wanted these two people to be together because they were of the same sex, I missed all the stuff about racial tensions. Homophobia replaced xenophobia, and it messed with the source material enough that when I attended the production at Neptune, I didn’t really know what I was in for.
|Anwyn Musico as Maria and Liam Tobin as Tony|
The folks at Neptune did an impeccable job with West Side Story. Everything from the beautiful sets to the colorful costumes to the fantastic singing and acting was right on the mark. What I really loved, though, was the dancing. I can’t remember the last time I saw a production with such good choreography, and it was really fun to watch.
In case you’re like me and don’t know much about West Side Story, here’s the gist: Set in 1950s New York, a boy from a working class white gang called the Jets falls in love with the sister of the head of the Sharks, a new rival gang of Puerto Rican immigrants who’ve moved into the neighborhood. It’s based on Romeo and Juliet, so you can figure out the rest.
|Danya Tietzen as Anita leads the girls in singing America’s praises|
All of the performers were really wonderful, but the one who stood out for me was Danya Tietzen as Anita. Anita is in love with Maria’s older brother Bernardo, the leader of the Sharks, and she plays an interesting role in the story. Tietzen plays her with the perfect amount of sexiness, sass, and wisdom. Anita is initially happy to be living in America (there is a very famous song about this that was stuck in my head for days after seeing the musical…and now it’s there again) and helps Maria secretly see her American love, Tony. But events later in the story (which I won’t spoil for you) change her beliefs, making her journey a very interesting one. Tietzen was great as Anita, and I thought all her numbers really popped.
I know I got all sappy and said this last time too, but I feel so grateful that my city has a theater like Neptune. They’ve really had a spectacular season this year, with The Wizard of Oz, a fun little play called Blithe Spirit, and the “Shakespeare Hat Trick” of Romeo and Juliet, MacHomer (a one-man show of Macbeth, but using characters from The Simpsons) and finishing with West Side Story. Whether your city or town has a professional theater, or a high school that puts on a production, you should try and get out and support it. It’s really a special experience.