A Faithful Re-Staging Of “West Side Story” at The Wick Theatre
By Skip Sheffield
There’s a place for us… somewhere a place for us.
That place is The Wick Theatre, 7901 N. Federal Highway, Boca Raton. The show is the American Musical Theater classic, “West Side Story.”
Many years in the making, “West Side Story” finally made its Broadway debut in 1961. It was an inspired collaboration among playwright Arthur Laurents, composer Leonard Bernstein and young lyricist Stephen Sondheim in his Broadway debut. The simple idea was adapting Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” to then-contemporary New York City at a peak in gang warfare. Pulling it all together was legendary director Hal Prince, with help from choreographer Jerome Robbins. The show has proved to be an evergreen perennial in revivals through the years all over the world.
Wick Theatre has pulled out the stops in the casting of WSS, with a cast of 29 shoehorned onto its stage. Playing the Romeo and Juliet lead roles of Tony and Maria are Thaddeus Pearson and Mary Joanna Grisso.
Though she looks like an ingénue, Grisso is a seasoned professional with more than 550 performances of the role of Maria alone. Grisso is the tiniest Maria I have ever seen. I’m guessing she couldn’t be more than 5-foot tall. Pearson on the other hand is a strapping lad of 6-3 or 6-4. The physical contrast of the characters underscores Maria’s vulnerability; caught between forces over which she has no control.
On the other hand is Maria’s older sister Anita, played with fire and sass by Sydney Mei Ruf-Wong. Ruf-Wong is a wonderful dancer, and she brings out the joyous sensuality of Anita.
Dance is of paramount importance to WSS. The sight of all these kids flying through the air is a spectacular sight.
WSS is a romance, but it is also a tragedy. Like the original Romeo and Juliet, the warring factions draw blood and deaths result. In this case it’s the Caucasian American Jets trying to hold on to their turf against the newcomer Puerto Rican immigrant Sharks. The Sharks’ boss guy is fiery Bernardo, older brother of Maria, played with smoldering passion by Pasqualino Beltempo. Tony is supposed to alpha dog of the rival jets, but his bravado has been cooled by a steady job at Doc’s (Howard Elfman) soda shop. Once he spies Maria at a dance, everything else (literally) falls away. The heavy lifting falls to Riff (Jeff Smith), who wants to whip the Sharks once and for all. Adults trying to maintain the peace are Officer Krumpke (Michael Cartwright) and Lt. Shrank (Cliff Burgess), who is not exactly neutral.
The futility of petty violence, cruel words and war is every bit as valid today as it was 400 years ago. Will we ever learn? So far, no.
WSS is best played as a period piece. An updated version several years ago was less successful. With Wick Theatre’s show, co-directed and choreographed by Charles South and Ryan VanDerBoom, you get the Real McCoy; a faithful re-staging of the 1961 original. Once again The Wick gives us something to make us proud of being in Boca Raton.
Tickets are $75 and $80. Call 561-995-2333 or go to www.thewick.org.