There is a moment in every well-known musical that determines whether or not the audience buys into the director’s interpretation of a beloved production. For me, when I see West Side Story, it’s the song Maria. There’s an anticipation that grows when you know the song is about to start. When Will Skrip started singing Maria, I closed my eyes and let the sound wash over me. It was different from what I had heard before. There was something more wistful about his finding something he dared not dream about, even as he knew he couldn’t live without his new love. It was beautiful in a way that was both familiar and new.
In fact, each song came to life in a new way during the opening night performance. Maria (Zoe Nadal) was delightfully girlish during her first real romance. When she tells Bernardo that it was very important that she have a good time at her first dance in America, you felt her youth. You went back to your first love, with the excitement of unexplored emotions and dreams come to life. Anita (Mary Antonini) expressed everyone’s anger at Bernardo’s murder when she belted out A Boy Like That. Her body language was angry. Her words were angry. Her eyes were angry. You thought that she would not do Anita’s bidding, even though you knew that was how the story played out.
One thing that struck me about the production was the lighting. The lighting was another performer on the stage from the opening scene through the final act. The Paramount Theatre stage was designed to be a large, blank canvas, as you would expect in a grand old theater. The deep stage allows the scenery designers plenty of space to create layered backgrounds. Lighting designer Jesse Klug created a dark, moody theme, which fits perfectly with the dark, moody angst that permeated each scene. The dance hall scene was notably darker than other times when I’ve seen West Side Story. Even when Tony and Maria were declaring their love in the dress shop, there was tension all around them. The lighting created a single, shining beacon in the dress shop. Everything else was dark and moody. When the Jets sang Officer Krupke, the spotlight jumped from actor to actor highlighting the uncertainty the Jets were experiencing.
From start to finish, the Paramount Theatre’s West Side Story is a raw, emotional story of love and loss, friends and family, time and place. More than half-a-century has passed since Leonard Bernstein’s music, Stephen Sondheim’s lyrics and Jerome Robbin’s choreography burst on the Broadway scene. The Paramount Theatre’s production is just as fresh and relevant in 2016 as the original production was in 1957. It is both a testament to the intertwined stories of immigrants trying to fit in to a new country and first love among those who would keep them apart. The enduring beauty of the story is brought to stage at the Paramount Theatre in a must-see production.
West Side Story run through April 24 with performances Wednesday through Sunday. Tickets are $41 to $56. To purchase tickets or for more information visit ParamountAurora.com or call (630) 896-6666.
Shari writes about life with twins at Two Times The Fun. Image courtesy of Liz Lauren for the Paramount Theatre.
Note: I did attend the opening night performance. My words and opinions are my own.
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