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Theater Review: “West Side Story”

“West Side Story” plays through August 31, 2019 at Moonlight Amphitheatre.
Photo credit:
Ken Jacques

It may seem strange to see a bunch of hoodlums – killers, even – break out in dance at the top of Leonard Bernstein’s iconic musical “West Side Story” – and it’s not hip-hop or break dancing. But by now, most of us are used to it.

This is a new time, but some of the same old social problems are still with us: prejudice and the definition of “American” among them. So Vista’s Moonlight Stage Productions returns to the brilliant 1957 show, but does something no other production I’ve seen onstage has: it boasts the original Jerome Robbins choreography that won a Tony.

That’s reason enough to see this production, but rest assured that director Steven Glaudini (Moonlight’s artistic director) gives us plenty of other reasons to book tickets for this terrific show, which incidentally opened within days of The Old Globe’s production of the source material – Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet.”

“West Side Story” is set in the gritty upper west side of New York City, where gangs – notably the white Jets and the Puerto Rican Sharks – rule, fight and sometimes kill in order to “prove” their superiority. The Sharks, at least, feel that necessary because although – as the song “America” has it – “Puerto Rico’s in America,” the Jets are unwilling to cede any territory, and only grudgingly share it. Clashes are inevitable.

Michael James Byrne and 18-year-old Bella Gil convince as the young lovers Tony and Maria, whose inter-gang relationship is destined for tragedy (Tony is a reluctant Jet; Maria’s brother is the leader of the Sharks).

Taylor Simmons is excellent as Riff, the Jets’ leader, and Tony’s best friend, as is Armando Eleazar as Maria’s brother Bernardo. And Courtney Arango gives Bernardo’s girl Anita all the spitfire spunk you could hope for. And Lacey Beegun is great as wannabe Jet Anybodys.

But the choreography is the star of this show, though it has some competition from the fine acting and a boffo 29-piece orchestra. Though there were a few musical glitches on opening night from both singers and players, they didn’t distract from the dancers, who were outstanding.

“West Side Story” is headed for Broadway again in 2020 – with the original choreography – and a new film is also in the works. But see this one first.

The details

“West Side Story” plays through August 31, 2019 at Moonlight Amphitheatre

1200 Vale Terrace Drive, Vista 92084

Wednesday through Sunday at 8 pm. 

Tickets: (760) 724-2110 or www.moonlightstage.com