West Side Story in Memphis

©Amy Boyle Photography

For everyone who has been engrossed in Hispanic Heritage along with us at the Brooks, to those who cannot resist a narrative as old as time (this pretty much covers everybody, now), Memphis’ Grand Opera House, the Orpheum, has the perfect dénouement for fall.

Before it was Romeo and Juliet, it was Tristan and Isolde–two fated lovers whose origins were Persian, or Celtic, depending on who you ask. For purposes here, the tragic tale started on the Upper West Side and is now running on Main and Beale Street, in Bernstein and Sondheim’s West Side Story, through November 10th.

Betwixt and between Maria and Tony, West Side Story‘s  Romeo and Juliet, are the “Sharks” from Puerto Rico and the Polish-American “Jets”. The opposing groups are defined by their respective roots and mutual dislike of one another; a strong use of color delineates this on stage. The “Sharks” appear clad in shiny purple, lit by cool blues turning fuschia when passion is at play. The “Jets” are a working-class ruffian crew, and the yellow and orange of sun-up follow them as they shuffle to the sounds of the orchestra, leap, sing, and shout. Of course the moral of the story is what happens when the two groups, themselves of light and dark skin tones, meet and mix, attract and repel.

©Amy Boyle Photography

Whether or not you know how the story ends, this version, directed by Jerome Robbins, resonates as it unfolds on stage. It is spirited and slightly edgy: I saw more than one well timed gesture you will not find in a Disney movie drawing the upmost of laughter from the audience. And while the whole of the production is fun, real damage and pain drawn from racism, class discrimination, and ignorance is not glossed over. And the beauty of love–period–is expressed, most eloquently in the pitch perfect presence of the leads, Jarrad Biron Green as Tony, and Maryjoanna Grisso as Maria.

Tickets and times for West Side Story are available here.


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