Ordway Shows Us Why “West Side Story” Looms as a Watershed Musical 60 Years Later

West Side Story - Ordway
West Side Story - Ordway

Photo by Rich Ryan.

The tensions between white and brown immigrants was crafted into a musical theater breakthrough in 1957. West Side Story contains some of the great tunes of theater history: “Tonight,” “Something’s Coming,” “I Feel Pretty,” “Officer Krupke,” just to name a few. Gay playwright Arthur Laurents wrote the book for the musical. Leonard Bernstein composed the score. Gay theater legend Stephen Sondheim wrote the lyrics. Gay choreographer Jerome Robbins gave birth to its signature dance style. He also originally conceived the musical’s very idea.

Photo by Rich Ryan.

Since then, West Side Story has been consistently and widely produced. The 1961 film, rightly regarded as a milestone, won 10 Oscars, not to mention is one of the most popular films ever. That’s why it’s a tall order to achieve a production that lives up to the work’s fabled gold standard. Happily, the Ordway has achieved that by staging a deeply moving and beautifully sung revival directed by Bob Richard. Be assured, West Side aficionados and those who have not yet experienced this towering musical will not be disappointed.

Photo by Rich Ryan.

Evy Ortiz and Tyler Michaels enchant in the lead roles modeled after Shakespeare’s star-crossed lovers, Romeo and Juliet: Puerto Rican Maria and Tony, the son of Polish parents. Michaels absolutely soars with his vocals and Ortiz is an absolutely lovable a stage presence. They spark a chemistry endearing and heart-wrenching.

Photo by Rich Ryan.

Superb and passionate support is given by Tyler John Logan as Riff, Desiree Davar as Anita, and Alexander Gil Cruz as Bernardo. Veteran actors James Detmar as the racist Lt. Schrank and Mark Rosenwinkel as long-suffering shop owner Doc provide a marvelous contrast in how people can age. Detmar seems to derive vitality out of Schrank’s rage-based belief system and Rosenwinkel’s Doc is the picture of weary empathy. Morgen Chang sparkles as the tomboy figure named Anybodys, who slips in and out of the shadows.

All that said, the entire ensemble is fabulous. They’ve gloriously mastered Diane Laurenson’s exquisitely observed choreography drawn from Robbins’s original. Raymond Berg’s sharp music direction epitomizes the crackling Bernstein spirit.

West Side Story
Through April 16
Ordway Center, 345 Washington St., St. Paul

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