West Side Story

November 14, 2012

Yesterday, thanks to one very generous red-haired girl, I went to a performance of West Side Story at Miller Auditorium, a theatre on Western Michigan University’s campus. Honestly, I couldn’t thank Carly enough…because West Side Story is my favorite musical of all time. In my opinion, (Which, to be honest, doesn’t count for a whole lot. I’m not strictly speaking a “critic.” The most experience I have as a critic is the few review articles I’ve written for the school newspaper…) of the few musicals I’ve seen, West Side Story is by far the best.

Anyway, Carly got me tickets to the show as a Christmas gift. Unfortunately, because she’s up at Interlochen, she wasn’t able to come with me…but I got to have one of those mother-son dates. Mom and I had a quick dinner last night, hopped in the car, and sped off to Western’s campus to catch the best show I’ve ever seen at Miller.

West Side Story, for those of you that may not know, is a modern (well…modern when it was originally written) version of Romeo & Juliet. It follows the story of two star-crossed lovers from two separate gangs in the upper-west side of Manhattan. (Of course, this musical is set in my favorite city on the planet.) The two gangs are the Jets and the Sharks. The Jets are white American boys who were born and raised in the city. The Sharks are Puerto Rican immigrants who recently moved to New York and attempted to take over the Jets territory. Of course, the two gangs conflicts relate primarily to issues of race.

Anyway, Tony (Romeo) is an old member of the Jets who’s slowly releasing his grasp on the gang. One night at a dance, Tony sees Maria (Juliet) across the room…and time stops for them. The two are instantly in love. For those of you who even remotely paid attention in Freshman English, (when we read Romeo & Juliet) you’re probably noticing some similarities. Unfortunately for the lovers, Maria’s brother is the leader of the Sharks.

So, the rest of Romeo & Juliet unfolds in a modern Manhattan setting. Tony confesses his love while Maria stands on her balcony. They fall deeper in love. They think their love will be understood by their peers. They’re sorely mistaken. A fight breaks out. People die. Long story short, it’s a tragedy. The most classic tragedy of all time. The tragedy that shows how, sometimes, it takes the death of an innocent man caught in the crossfire for people to see the flaws in war. West Side Story and Romeo & Juliet is a story of peace. It’s a call for neutrality. It works to prove that violence is never the answer.

And that’s why I love it.

The beginning of the musical is filled with so much love. The love that Tony and Maria feel for each other. This is when we hear classic love songs like “Tonight” and “Maria” and “One Hand, One Heart.” The end of the musical is filled with the destruction of that love by the forces of violent ignorance.

Generally, I think of myself as more of a comedy man. I just don’t really find as much enjoyment in tragedies. West Side Story is probably the one exception. In the long list of my favorite books, movies, TV shows, songs, plays, and musicals…you’d find a lot of comedy and lightheartedness. West Side Story, though, will always be the outlier. It will always be the tragedy in a long list of comedies. And I have so many reasons for that…

It follows the greatest love story of all time. It has one of my favorite songs ever (“Something’s Coming”). It delivers one of the most powerful lessons in peace ever written. It’s set in Manhattan. It has one of the most noble heroes I’ve ever seen. It has some of the coolest dancing/fighting scenes ever coreographed. It…it’s what I was looking for in a musical without realizing that’s what I wanted. If that makes sense?

Anyway…thank God  for the red-haired girl. Thank God she got me tickets. I got the chance to see my favorite musical brought to Life on stage. I got the chance to experience my one favorite tragedy.

My one tragedy in a list of comedies.

I got to experience a West Side Story.

-Brian Wiegand (An Idiot, A Superman in training)

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