Presented by Performing Arts Fort Worth, the tour of the smash hit Broadway revival of WEST SIDE STORY is coming to Fort Worth. WEST SIDE STORY will open at Bass Performance Hall on January 15 and run through January 20. Tony Award-winning librettist Arthur Laurents' Broadway direction is recreated for the tour by David Saint, the Associate Director on Broadway. The original Jerome Robbins choreography is reproduced by Tony Award-nominee Joey McKneely (The Boy from Oz, The Life).
Arthur Laurents has directed a West Side Story for the 21st century. It's not that the show has been updated. Rather, it has been infused with a contemporary sensibility and the knowledge of what has and has not changed in this country over the past 50-plus years.
Maria and Tony still fall in love and are still doomed, unable to escape the warring factions that circumscribe their lives. Maria is the sister of Bernardo, leader of the Sharks, a Puerto Rican gang fighting a turf war with the Jets. And Tony, a former Jet who has left the gang but cannot break free of its hold, is propelled into the battle in spite of himself.
Leonard Bernstein's gorgeous music still soars; Robbins' dynamic choreography, reproduced by Joey McKneely, remains invigorating.
But Laurents has added more grit to an already gritty show, and heightened the romance. He also has the Puerto Rican characters sometimes sing and speak in Spanish, which not only gives them a bit more authenticity, but reflects the sounds of New York City today.
"I wanted to do a much tougher West Side Story," Laurents says. "I felt the gangs in the original production were sweet little things. And the truth is, they're all killers – every one of them."
Laurents created these characters, together with composer Bernstein, lyricist Stephen Sondheim, and director/choreographer Robbins. Laurents wrote the book for the landmark 1957 musical, and over the course of more than a half century, his views about the material have evolved. In the published version of the original script, he used the word "nice" to describe one member of the Jets, and "slightly whacky" to describe Riff – hardly adjectives associated with killers.
"I don't think any of them are nice," said Laurents. "What I thought 50 years ago, I certainly don't think today. A lot of my ideas have changed, and this whole production is radically different from what it was back then. It would have to be."
The Bernstein and Sondheim score is considered to be one of Broadway's finest and features such classics of the American musical theatre as "Something's Coming," "Tonight," "America," "I Feel Pretty" and "Somewhere."
The Associated Press says West Side Story "remains Broadway's best dance-driven musical. Five decades have not dimmed the extraordinary choreography or the score that pulsates throughout."
Laurents' changes may make the show speak more clearly, more truthfully, to contemporary audiences, but even without them, the material remains evergreen. Falling in love with the "wrong" person has led to bloodshed for centuries, long before Shakespeare wrote about it in Romeo and Juliet, the play that inspired West Side Story.
"I think people kid themselves how much better things are today," said Laurents. "It's better, but not all that much. I've received hate letters because of the Spanish in this production. Underneath, the prejudice remains, and I think most people know that. So you hear a couple of these lines in West Side Story, and the show seems more contemporary now than ever before."
West Side Story features scenic designs by James Youmans, costumes by Tony Award nominee David C. Woolard, lighting by Tony Award winner Howell Binkley and sound design by Peter McBoyle.
Recommended for ages 13+. Please be advised that there is strong language, violence, and some sensitive subject matter that is true to the story and plot. Parental guidance is suggested.