“West Side Story” made its debut on Broadway in 1957, brilliantly re-telling William Shakespeare’s tragic yet timeless tale of “Romeo & Juliet” for a newer, hipper generation. Based on the book by Arthur Laurents, with music by Leonard Bernstein and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, the play quickly took the theater world by storm.
Although it was first performed years before their time, the newest generation of Sharks and Jets in Music Theatre Louisville’s “West Side Story” makes for a talented ensemble, bringing a rough, 1950s New York to life on the stage of the Iroquois Park Amphitheatre.
The cast is captivating as a whole, but Patrick Lane and Beth Obregon are particularly entrancing as love-struck teenagers Tony and Maria. When they’re together, they command the audience’s complete attention. Their initial meeting occurs at the school dance, and although most of the cast is onstage during the scene, it is hard to notice anyone else. Most viewers probably know, or can guess what is (sadly) lurking at the end of the play, but the audience still pulls for the rival gangs to overcome the prejudice and intolerance that keeps the lovers apart.
Transitions between scenes are seamless and fluid. Aside from the giggly pack of teenagers behind me and the screaming baby somewhere in the amphitheatre, it’s easy to forget this is live theater. The play is overwhelmingly dramatic (duh!), but it does contain humorous one-liners and innuendo that keep the viewer from becoming totally downhearted. The jokes aren’t offensive, but some will likely go over the heads of younger viewers.
Altogether, MTL provides a satisfying summer’s evening in a wonderful ambient environment.
BY STEPHANIE SALMONS