To fully enjoy the musical “West Side Story,” you have to move past the obvious ridiculousness of gang members singing and dancing. But once you’ve reconciled that the Jets and the Sharks will both wield switchblades and perform split leaps, you’re in for an amazing show.
The musical premiered in 1957, and four years later was made into a movie. It includes some of the most covered and parodied songs in the American lexicon (“Tonight,” “Maria,” “America,” “I Feel Pretty”), so even if you’re not a Broadway musical regular or haven’t seen West Side Story, you’ll likely be familiar with the music. The incredible thing about this West Side Story tour, which follows its 2009 Broadway revival, is that the cast takes what is familiar and makes it exceptional.
The energy and choreography in “America,” led by Michelle Aravena as Anita, dazzled from start to finish. The high school dance scene was similarly spectacular; I could have used four pairs of eyes to fully take in all of the action. And though the cast meshes well as a whole, the stars shine on their own, too. Ross Lekites as Tony is able to fill Music Hall with his rich voice, and listening to him sing these beautiful Leonard Bernstein-Stephen Sondheim ballads is worth the price of admission.
Lekites and Evy Ortiz as Maria also are able to pull off the almost impossible in convincing the audience that their whirlwind, less-than-48-hour romance is real and worth rooting for. Because the musical is adapted from “Romeo and Juliet,” we all know how this love story ends, and just as the deaths in Shakespeare’s timeless play seem tragically needless, so do the casualties in West Side Story. Perhaps this explains why, of all the popular and catchy songs from the musical, the one that stuck with me for days was “Somewhere.” Its hopeful vision of heaven, or maybe heaven on earth, encompassed not only Tony and Maria but the entire cast, too, and the sweet voice of Alexander Frohlinger as Anybodys paints a picture of what could be, so that when the curtain closes in darkness and silence at the musical’s end, the despair is even more poignant.
This final show in the Dallas Summer Musicals 2011 season lineup will be at Fair Park’s Music Hall through Sunday, Oct. 23. (A word to the wise: The usually free parking near Music Hall is nonexistent during the State Fair of Texas, so expect to pay $30 to valet, and $15 for a nearby lot or $10 for a spot outside Fair Park grounds — and leave yourself plenty of time to walk if you choose one of the latter two options. DART’s Green Line is probably the cheapest method of transportation.)