Photo by Rich Ryan
Three members of the Sharks dance during West Side Story
Leave it to the Ordway to make even street fighting beautiful.
The theater’s latest production, West Side Story, seamlessly combines Broadway talent with local stars to create the timeless Romeo and Juliet-esque tale of rival gangs in 1950s New York. The Jets, a white gang, have butt heads with the Sharks ever since they arrived from Puerto Rico. But when Puerto Rican Maria (National Broadway Tour actress Evy Ortiz), falls in love with ex-Jet Tony (local Ivey winner Tyler Michaels), well, things get out of hand. It’s a classic story, but the Ordway makes it feel new again.
Part of the show’s originality comes from the Ordway’s partnership with Teatro del Pueblo, a local group that supports Latino artists, promotes diversity and starts cultural conversations in the Twin Cities art scene. Teatro has been involved in many steps of the show’s production process, from co-hosting workshops to introduce a more diverse group of talented local actors (some of the performers were actually cast right from the workshops) to creating an open dialogue of how the Puerto Rican characters should be represented in the musical.
“West Side Story is a piece of great music and great dance, but it’s told from a specific point of view,” says Shelley Quiala, the Ordway’s Vice President of Arts Education and Community Engagement, on the need for the collaboration. “The ability to tell stories on a platform is connected to power.”
The more equitable point of view was refreshingly obvious. From the fun and witty rendition of “America,” sung by the Puerto Rican women about the good, bad and ugly in Puerto Rico and the United States, to a wistful “Somewhere,” (during which the immigrants joined Tony and Maria on the stage to sing lines like “somewhere/ there’s a place for us/ a time and place for us”) it wasn’t all pro-white Jets and anti-Latino Sharks. In fact, it’s hard to discern who the bad guys are—a welcome change from some productions.
West Side Story. Through April 16. Ordway Center for the Performing Arts, 345 Washington St., St. Paul. 651-224-4222. ordway.org