It’s a story as old as time: Anywhere there is a neighborhood worth claiming, there are turf wars. That’s the premise of West Side Story, the musical set in New York’s Upper West Side in the 1950s, when it was still a blue-collar, working-class neighborhood into which immigrants were moving and struggling to create a foothold and a new life.
And naturally, the original inhabitants wanted the neighborhood all to themselves, and were willing to fight for it. Enter the Jets–a gang of white teenage boys with a grudge–and the Sharks–a gang of Puerto Rican teens unafraid to stand their own ground. Most of the gang members (from both sides) are banged up due to incessant fighting, expressed in dramatic dance numbers and haunting songs like “Jet Song” and “The Rumble.”
The conflict takes a fateful turn when Tony (Thaddeus Pearson), a former Jet trying to get his life together, meets Maria (Mary Joanna Grisso), sister of the Sharks’ leader, Bernardo (Pasqualino Beltempo), at a dance. The two instantly fall in love, ignoring their ethnic differences, and plan to marry.
Over Bernardo’s dead body! Her brother refuses to accept the relationship and pushes for a “rumble” between the two gangs. That’s the pivotal point that escalates the conflict between the two sides to downright tragedy.
It’s a dark story, to be sure, and it does not have a happy ending. But the music and dancing adds an energy that engages the audience in a way that transcends the somber tone. Numbers like “Dance at the Gym” and “America” are vibrant and hopeful, showcasing the talent of the company. In particular, Bernardo’s girlfriend, Anita (Sydney Mei Ruf-Wong), steals the show with her elastic moves and indomitable Latina spirit.
West Side Story is playing at The Wick Theatre in Boca Raton through February 26. Executive Producer Marilynn Wick said this was the most requested show by theater subscribers and audiences. Go see it and you’ll know why.