Stage: Wednesday, November 07, 2002
West Side Story\r\nNov. 12-17, 8pm Tues-Sat, 7:30pm Sun, 2pm Sat and Sun. $28-78. 817-212-4280.
Tony y Maria

Bernstein’s take on Romeo and Juliet is revived for the Bass Hall stage.


Broadway musicals took on a whole new social awareness when Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story hit town in 1957. The reality of street gangs and violent race relations wrapped around the bones of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet proved a potent mix and became one of Broadway’s most powerful theater pieces. The Bard seemed just as happy in mid-20th-century New York as he had been in old Verona. Bernstein’s musical setting of Arthur Laurents’ book, replete with Stephen Sondheim’s lyrics, is one of the composer’s most successful scores in any medium — opera, symphony, or ballet. The energy, verve, and originality of the music transcends Broadway and hovers somewhere in the realm of art.

Set for performances this week by Casa Manana and the Fort Worth Dallas Ballet in Bass Performance Hall, West Side Story would seem an unusual choice for a classical dance company. We’re not talking toe shoes and tutus here. Originally choreographed by Jerome Robbins, the show requires its dancers to work in show-biz idioms and to sing and act. Obviously some FWDB dancers have the training, but not all. As it turns out, participation was voluntary. Company members who felt game tried out. Selection was made on the basis of singing and acting abilities in addition to dancing skills. In all, 12 dancers were picked, about half the company.

California-based director Sha Newman was brought in to stage the show. A dancer who came up through the ranks before taking on directing duties, she always had an eye for what she calls the “big picture.”

“I see theater as a whole, not just one part,” she said. “When I first showed up for auditions way back when, I did my thing, but I was more interested in watching everyone else and seeing how the selection process worked. Why did someone I thought was great not get picked? What were they looking for and why? When I danced in a show I knew everyone’s part, not just my own. I couldn’t help it. The whole picture was what grabbed me, not a piece here and there.”

Asked if she’ll use Robbins’ choreography, she said, “Oh, yes. We’re licensed to set his choreography, but I’ll stage the rest of the show. He had a different set to work with, and his direction doesn’t always adapt.” The revolving set pieces used here were created for a Los Angeles production she directed not too long ago.

Most people are aware by now that Shakespeare’s feuding Capulet and Montague families of Renaissance Italy have become the Sharks and Jets here, rival street gangs on New York City’s west side. Juliet has become Maria, the sister of the leader of the Puerto Rican Sharks. Romeo, a.k.a. Tony, is a former head of the Anglo Jets who has outgrown his interest in gangs and is making his way in the world. He and Maria meet at a high school dance in the local gym, and the tragedy of the couple follows the original story line. What you may not know if your only experience is the film version is that an extended dance sequence was cut by Hollywood. The song “Somewhere” opens up to a place where freedom, love, and joy reign, and bigotry, intolerance, and hate have no home. It’s the most moving moment in the piece, and why it ended up on the cutting-room floor is one of those Tinseltown mysteries still to be solved.

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