The same gang rivalries, the same star-crossed lovers, the same “West Side Story” – but something will feel fresh in the La Mirada Theatre.
Director Richard Israel, who directed the La Mirada Theatre’s production of “Rent” last year, said he and producer Tom McCoy were in agreement that they wanted to present the iconic musical, but bring, as Israel puts it, a “new life and relevance to it.”
That is a tough thing to do with a Tony Award-winning production that has become a classic in both the theater and film world, but Israel felt the story is just as pertinent today as it was when it was written by Arthur Laurents more than 60 years ago – and over 400 years ago, if you are referencing its story inspiration “Romeo and Juliet.” La Mirada Theatre and McCoy Rigby Entertainment will present the musical with a preview on Friday, April 21, and regular performances running Saturday, April 22, for a three-week run.
“The musical is, for better or for worse, more relevant today than ever, particularly in light of our current political climate. It ultimately revolves around the tribal need to protect territory, and we see this manifested every day on the news,” said Israel, “Bigotry thrives when a group of people feels threatened by a perceived other, and that’s exactly what ‘West Side Story’ is about.”
So how does one update a classic? Israel said there are no updates to the original story, but the surrounding elements – choreography, set, costumes – are upgraded, with nothing recreated.
With other adaptations of the play, said Israel, creative teams tend to reproduce the original choreography by Jerome Robbins and use an existing scenic design package. So Israel and McCoy looked first at revising the choreography.
“While we are in no way trying to update the show, we are re-conceiving the movement vocabulary to take it out of the Jerome Robbins ballet-based style, and allow the characters to move more like gang members on the streets of New York,” said Israel.
Set in the mid-1950s Upper West Side of New York City, the story explores a rivalry between two teenage street gangs – the Jets, a group of white teenagers, and the Sharks, a group of Puerto Rican teenagers. Its protagonist is Tony, a former member of the Jets, who falls in love with Maria, the sister of the Sharks’ leader.
With its dark theme that focuses on social issues, comprehensive dance numbers, a detailed scenic design and catchy tunes by Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim, including “Something’s Coming,” “Maria” and “I Feel Pretty,” the musical became one of the world’s most beloved shows, running on Broadway with several revivals, on international stages such as London’s West End, and high school theaters for more than five decades.
The La Mirada set, designed by Stephen Gifford, will feature a more multi-purpose and abstract design than what is typically produced, Israel said. Only the set and props are used, with no…