Lyric Opera Gives Us A Large Scale Production
As the curtain rises, a neon hotel sign blinks high above the stage atop an old building facade. On the other side, another large building looms over us with balconies and fire escapes. The old buildings and chain link fences make us feel like we are in the heart of the Upper West Side.
The Jets slowly gather onstage for the opening number. They nod to each other, clasp hands, and josh around. As the music dips during the familiar musical Prologue, The Sharks enter. They slowly circle each other, the iconic snaps in place as the tension heightens. With the sudden uptick of the music the gangs engage in a fight with this opening dance number. They leap as they chase after one another. A Shark pushes a Jet off him to have him fly through the air.
This is only the beginning of Lyric’s West Side Story replete with large dance numbers and the retelling of a tale as old as time.
Taking Us Forward in Time
Originally set in the 1950s where poofy skirts and greased hair abound, here in Lyric’s most recent rendition of West Side Story we’re taken to modern day. Members of the Jets wear blue and orange Knicks jerseys. A Bad Bunny poster is tacked onto Maria’s wall. The hemlines are shortened and pants tightened to bring us into more modern times.
In the dance scene that kicks off the gang war, the stage lights up half blue and half red as the two gangs square off at the dance. The lights reflect off the should be festive balloons, but the tension is high. The two groups stand starkly apart, refusing to join together.
As the two gangs fight each other over territory and pride, it highlights that these issues are not ones we’ve left in the 50s. One thing that still stands true is that everybody still hates cops. Rather than out each other to Officer Kropke and Lieutenant Schrank, the gangs stay quiet as they want to deal with their problems their own way. Even after the gangs’ rumble leaves their two leaders dead, the Jets pull out all the stops in the comedic relief number Gee, Officer Kropke to milk every comedic bit to make fun of the blundering officer instead of ratting the other men out.
Bringing Both Sides of the Story
What doesn’t change however, is the classic re-packaging of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet story, including its many tender moments.
As Maria and Tony (Kanisha Feliciano and Ryan McCartan) clasp each other on the fire escape singing Somewhere, we’re transported to a dreamscape where the dancers merge together as one group.
When Bernando (Yurel Echezarreta) enters the dress shop, he kisses Maria on the forehead and we feel the brotherly love trying to do what’s best for his family.
As Riff (Brett Thiele) convinces Tony to come back to The Jets for one more fight, they run through their shared history and embrace like they were brothers, showing sometimes your chosen family runs deeper than blood.
For those who love West Side Story and are looking for a tried and true rendition, this production would be a good fit for you. For those who are also fans of classic musicals with the full works of sets, costumes, and large dance numbers, this would also be a good fit for you.
Thru JUNE 25, 2023
Lyric Opera of Chicago
20 N. Wacker Drive
About the Author: Alexis Bugajski
Alexis is a theater reviewer, travel bug, media specialist, and burger & beer enthusiast. During the day she works in the advertising business as a senior communications designer. When night falls, or when she can escape to New York, she’s hitting the theaters to see as many shows as she can. And whenever she’s not at her desk or in the audience, she’s out seeking the best burger and beer offerings in Chicago.
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