I recently saw "West Side Story" at Montclair State University. It was a show that I have studied and seen multiple times. I have even been in it. And I have to say it was the best version I've ever seen. The realism of this production impressed me and made me very excited, especially when it came to the blind, unneeded hatred and gang war of the Sharks and Jets. These factors create all of the conflict. When it was over, I went to a question and answer session done with the director, actors and creative team where I learned information on the lighting, sound, and scenic design.
The characters were portrayed very well and you could tell there were smart and informed actors on that stage. You could also tell by the work, that all of the people on that stage had done a ton of research on their characters and the overall acclaimed show with a book by Arthur Miller, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, and music by Leonard Bernstein; maybe one of my favorite collaborations of all time. I I was especially glad that the show was not changed to be more PG. Many of the characters, especially the Jets had very offensive things to say about a lot of subjects that are accepted in society today, because "West Side Story" takes place in the 1950's. Of course I don't share their opinions, but the boys portrayed are mostly uneducated and ignorant gang members in New York City. I'm glad that the characters, as wrong as they are, were portrayed truthfully because I think their wrong views make it all the more clear why the fighting,that makes up all of the conflict in the show, must stop. The performances were dazzling, especially the singing and dancing, which wasn't surprising because the actors expertly transferred the original Jerome Robbins choreography to the stage.
One of the most beloved things about "West Side Story" is the music. It is one of the most acclaimed scores of all time. And the pit of this show was spectacular and it was a full orchestra, something you no longer see on Broadway (much to my sadness).There wasn't enough room for the full pit so the drummer and pianist were in the actual theater pit while the strings, other percussion, and other instruments were on the two floors below, where they were spectacularly miked. The sound designer went into great detail about the use of microphones for the production.
The final and best part of this production was the set. The moving pieces of this show were fluid and every new scene and location was amazingly different, helped greatly by the amazing lighting, turning the stage into dark alleys and parking lots, as well as dress shops. The costumes gave life and character to the performers and laid a light layer on the darkened stage. The set design plans were started last winter and the amazing work of the creative team was quite noticeable by this visually beautiful show.
The last thing I want to say had nothing to do with anything the actors or creative team could control, the audience. I watched the musical with a lot of people who had never seen the show, and who acted like they had never had to be quiet before. Even though I found it a little annoying while watching, after thinking about it more I realized that the shouts and expressions of the audience made me think about seeing this musical for the first time. I saw it with new eyes and I noticed a lot of things I originally overlooked.
Overall this production was amazing and a must see! It's high energy, superb acting, singing, dancing, and orchestra are all reasons for coming to this musical. The lighting, sound, and scenic design are above most creative teams dreams and you can tell every person apart of this musical gave it everything they had. I hope to see more shows done by these performers and production designers.