By Jeanné McCartin
“West Side Story,” now playing at Seacoast Repertory Theatre, is colorful, heartfelt and captivating. At 62 years old, this musical could prove a bit stale. It doesn’t – at all. But for a few dated lines, this production feels fresh and relevant, and is an utter pleasure to behold.
First, in case you missed it, “West Side Story” was inspired by Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet,” and features a score by Leonard Bernstein, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and book by Arthur Laurent.
It chronicles the lives of the anglo Jets and Puerto Rican Sharks, two New York teen gangs. Its side storylines are a fight for turf, and the love between Tony and Maria who are related to opposing gangs. It’s rife with racism, corruption, poverty,and teen angst on steroids.
And then there’s the music, some of the genre’s most memorable tunes, such as “Maria,” “Tonight” “Somewhere,” and “I Feel Pretty.”
This production honors its lineage, and stays put in its original era. Still the energy, and spirit of Bryan Knowlton’s direction and choreography gives it a contemporary and crisp feel. It’s quick, vibrant, and often exhilarating.
Knowlton’s opening sets a disturbing tone that he carries throughout the piece to great effect. His direction offers a smart synchronicity in movement and pacing. His meaty and exciting choreography is new, but lifts iconic moves (think swishing petticoats) to satisfy expectations.
He’s also nailed the casting.
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