By Edward Kliszus and Elizabeth Ann Foster, November 26, 2021
An excited full house eagerly anticipated this Opening Night of West Side Story, its pathos intensified by today’s passing of our beloved bard Stephen Sondheim. As such, we were honored to participate in what became a celebration of West Side Story’s depiction of a doomed couple we love, akin to Romeo and Juliet, Aida and Radames, and Tristan and Isolde. Elizabeth Ann Foster, a former Almodovar Ortiz from Yauco, Puerto Rico, tonight experienced her first viewing of a production of West Side Story. With parents hailing from the Isles of Ireland and Puerto Rico, a product of the sixties, and at the time originating from what was deemed a mixed marriage, the storyline is personal and vital.
We were transfixed by the beauty and power of the tragedy from which we could not turn away. Like audiences immersed in the 19th-century tragic love affairs operatically staged by Wagner and Puccini, we wept and sympathized, our emotions rising and descending to the sounds and scenes.
This performance wonderfully supported Arthur Laurents’ imagery through dance, song, drama, and music. Supercharged by Jerome Robbins, Leonard Bernstein, and Stephen Sondheim, the venue’s descriptive dramatic power was brought to life by the Florida Repertory Theatre company. Audience members were captivated, sighing and breathing to spiritual affections, beauty, hope, and loss.
The troupe successfully sustained the tensions of discovery, innocence, doomed love, impending tragedy, territorial mêlées of the competing Sharks and Jets, and wanton first-generation youths pushing back on conservative society from their urban milieus. Notably, this patron realized the depths and complexities of her heritage, coming full circle to appreciate her Irish mother who never remarried, remaining in love to this day with her “PR” as she called him.
This was a marvelous opportunity for up-and-coming artists to collaborate with seasoned pros from Broadway including Diego Guevara as Bernardo, Zach Shanne as Tony, Maria Cristina Posada Slye as Anita, Rebbekah Vega-Romero as ingenue Maria, and Michael Marotta as Doc. Fellow audience members remarked in awe on Skyler Shields’ solid singing and characterizations of Riff, observations with which we wholeheartedly agree. Of special note also are the blocking and sets designed by David Arsenault, aptly supporting the artistic and dramatic power of a large, energetic cast, splendid dancing, and Curtis Holbrook’s choreography.
For Elizabeth Ann Foster, whose parents’ lives project their own tragic love story, this production was highly anticipated. Never having seen a production of West Side Story but knowing it was one of her parents’ favorites on Broadway, she was eager to personally observe the hype’s source. She was compelled to experience Florida Rep’s production and was not disappointed. So much made sense from her sphere of origin! She viewed the original film adaptation of the musical that evening, noting almost immediately her preference for Florida Rep’s precision dance scenes. Take it from this Bronx-born native New Yorker, that if you have never seen West Side Story, you must head over to the Arcade Theatre and avail yourself of a rich history lesson. Your recognition and appreciation of our evolution as a society is alone worth the ticket price.
Amazing. Standing ovations well-earned!
Get your tickets for West Side Story at the Historic Arcade Theatre, which runs through December 15, 2021. For tickets for West Side Story and the Theatre’s exciting 21-22 season, go to https://www.floridarep.org/the-season/west-side-story/ or call the box office at 239-332-4488.