Volume 93, Issue 10

Wednesday, September 15, 1999


West Side crackles with high energy

Royal Trux driven by independence

Ellis novel worth retrospect

Days, Moxy have big returns

West Side crackles with high energy

Photo by Cylla Von Tiedemann
YOU WANT ME TO PUT THE TOONIE WHERE? Tyley Ross and Ma-Anne Dionisio play a little "Snakes and Ladders" in Stratford's West Side Story.

By Brad Lister

Gazette Staff

Boy meets girl. Boy and girl fall in love. Boy kills girl's brother. Perhaps this isn't the best way to start off a relationship, but it does make for a compelling story.

Doomed lovebirds Tony and Maria still manage to forge a union despite these circumstances in the classic American musical West Side Story, now on stage at the Stratford Festival.

It has often been said there are only a handful of stories to tell, with a limited number of plots to provide their conflicts. It is the writer's individual interpretation which makes each of them unique. Boy meets girl is one of those many plots which have been adapted and re-adapted for centuries by writers in countless languages.

William Shakespeare's classic variation on the theme, Romeo and Juliet, provides the inspiration for this musical. West Side Story replaces Shakespeare's Montague and Capulet families with the Sharks and the Jets, two rival gangs dueling for supremacy in the slums of New York.

The musical begins with Riff, the leader of the Jets, who tries to convince his best friend Tony to help him defeat the rival Sharks in a street fight. Before the rumble, Tony meets a beautiful girl named Maria who, unbeknownst to him, is the sister of the Sharks' leader, Bernardo. It is their single-minded love which allows them to forget they are supposed to be bitter enemies and that Maria has been promised by her family to marry Bernardo's compatriot, Chino.

These tumultuous conflicts are what drives West Side Story and has helped it endure since famed choreographer Jerome Robbins first conceived the classic musical in 1957. Familiarity with the classic theme should be the focus of directors looking to mount future productions. Unfortunately, many productions fail in tending to stick to what the audience expects. When the performances and the dance numbers fail to equal the audience's expectations, they leave disappointed.

Thankfully, this Stratford production does not let the audience down, as director Kelly Robinson keeps a brisk pace. None of the actors try to go over the top with their performances and when the mood requires a subtle touch, it is well delivered. Choreographer Sergio Trujillo delivers incredibly high energy dance numbers which leave the audience applauding.

What holds Stratford's production together, however, is the vibrant performances by the stars of the show, Tyley Ross as Tony and Ma-Anne Dionisio as Maria. Both have beautiful voices that reach clear up into the balconies during their respective solos. Ross's love ballad "Maria" is haunting, infectious and sweetly honest. During the second act, after discovering the love of her life has murdered her brother, Dionisio's rendition of "I Have a Love" convinces the audience of her love for Tony, no matter the consequence.

This production lives up to all expectations and delivers so much more. Stratford's West Side Story is a high-energy show filled with both light and dark moments which remains incredibly accessible to the masses. It is engaging, entertaining and makes for a perfect evening at the theatre.

West Side Story continues to play at the Avon Theatre until Nov. 6.

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Copyright The Gazette 1999