BY SUSAN SCAFFIDI Contributing writer
While some Broadway musicals become dated, others never lose their appeal. This is especially true of "West Side Story," which comes to Bakersfield for a one-night performance at Rabobank Theater Thursday.
"West Side Story" is a retelling of "Romeo and Juliet," the Montagues and Capulets replaced by rival gangs the Jets and Sharks -- native New Yorkers vs. Puerto Rican immigrants. Tragic lovers Tony and Maria try to create their own world in an environment of violence, juvenile delinquency and bigotry.
"West Side Story" premiered on Broadway on Sept. 26, 1957, with everything going for it -- a timeless story updated with contemporary issues, and a creative team that boasted three acknowledged superstars and one future one: director Arthur Laurents, composer Leonard Bernstein, choreographer Jerome Robbins, and lyricist Stephen Sondheim. Theater critics emphasized the role that Robbins' ground-breaking choreography had in the success of the show, especially as a vehicle for expressing the often explosive passions of the teenaged Jets and Sharks.
But J. Michael Duff, who is the musical director for Thursday's show, credits Bernstein's music -- a successful mixture of jazz, Latin and operatic elements into a score that evoked the New York of the 1950s, yet somehow still works today.
"Composers like Leonard Bernstein generally don't write Broadway shows," Duff said. "To me, it kind of puts this show in its own niche."
"It has this orchestral sound to it," Duff said. "I've never seen another show come up with an orchestral suite that shows up in concert halls all over the world."
Songs like "Maria," "Tonight," "One Hand, One Heart," "I Feel Pretty" and "Something's Coming" contrast with "America," "Mambo," "Cool," and instrumental dance numbers such as the rumble scene.
The eclectic, driving score provided the platform on which Robbins could create his choreography, stunning Broadway audiences in the late 1950s. Translated to film in 1961, "West Side Story" won 10 Academy Awards, including best picture and score.
Duff said the extraordinary level of musical content has kept the score fresh for audiences and musicians alike.
"I don't think there's one wasted note in any part in the orchestra," Duff said. "There's some virtuoso lick in every part in the book -- it's really fun to play."
Duff said in addition to Bernstein's music, this production will feature a re-creation of Robbins' legendary choreography (sometimes touring companies use new choreography or other fundamental production elements).
"Something would be missing otherwise," Duff said.
This production of "West Side Story" features Addison Reid Coe as Tony, MaryJoanna Grisso as Maria, Michelle Alves as Anita, Theo Lencicki as Riff and Andres Acosta as Bernardo.
The touring company started in New York and has been traveling throughout the United States zig-zagging from East to West coasts.
"We prefer the term 'ping-pong,'" Duff said.
There are still tickets available for "West Side Story," including individual seats in prime sections of the Rabobank Theater.