5 OUT OF 5 STAR RATING
No that’s not my reaction every time I look in the mirror. I am instead putting into words my thoughts of The Lower Ossington Theatre‘s production of Broadway & West End classic musical, WEST SIDE STORY, last night.
Despite knowing the back-story of the show, I pondered whether I would enjoy a musical that I had never seen performed before. Sitting in the centre of the audience; at a SOLD OUT PERFORMANCE, I was blown away by the stage that lay before me. Decorated with red-brick walls, steel fencing, park benches, apartment blocks and buildings, the set lay under a beautiful backdrop of evening sunset; depicting a typical upper west-side neighbourhood in New York City.
But for those not familiar with this mesmerising, touching and romantic love story of Tony & Maria, I will let you all in on the tale that is to unfold…without spoiling the ending and the surprises that lie in-store, of course.
As the theatre lights dimmed, the stage exploded with a mixture of music and dazzling colours; signalling the awakening of the uplifting orchestra and our exciting characters. With whoops and cheers from an enthusiastic crowd, the show burst to life and this is where our story begins.
We are introduced immediately to The Jets, a American teenage street gang, who reside in this mid 1950’s, blue collar neighbourhood. Immigration is on the rise, bringing new nationalities and cultures to New York City. However, with unemployment rates increasing and crime becoming more regular; the Jets relationship with the rival Puerto Rican street gang, The Sharks, is turbulent, volatile and unpredictable at the best of times. With a “Them versus Us” attitude, neither gang see eye to eye in any matter, and vow to take control over territory in their neighbourhood.
The Jets leader Riff (played by Robbie Fenton) and the Sharks leader Bernardo (played by Luiz Monterei) are fantastic characters within this story. Both headstrong and determined to get their own way, they plan to meet at the annual gym dance to settle a score. But Riff can’t do this alone. Yes, he has his four mates, but he looks to someone else who may have his back in a fight. He seeks out his old friend Tony, the male lead of the show (played by the talented Hugh Ritchie), who has now left all memories of gang life behind and is making an honest living working in a local drugstore. Riff encourages his old friend to come along to the dance, and after much deliberation…Tony agrees.
But what is a love story without a love interest? Across town, another story is unfolding in a small bridal store. Maria (played by the astounding Meher Pavri) works in a bridal shop with her brother’s girlfriend Anita (portrayed phenomenally by Victoria Scully) and has just arrived from Puerto Rico. Her brother is in fact the leader of the Puerto Rican gang. She yearns for a wonderful life and looks beyond boundaries and differences. Her family have intended for her to soon marry her brother’s friend Chino, but Maria has no feelings for this man. Anita and her friends decide to bring Maria to the dance at the gym, in order for her and Chino to get to know each other more.
But when both the Sharks and the Jets arrive at the dance with their girlfriends, the inevitable romantic encounter is set in motion. In an energetic, sexy and competitive dance-off, the groups create a spectacular performance, as they take on each other with high kicks, rolling hips, sensual moves and perfect splits. But in the distance Tony meets Maria, and it is love at first sight. Their initial meeting send them soaring away from the tensions between each gang and sail beyond the differences of their families.
However, falling in love may occur in an instant but allowing it to blossom is never that simple. Cue these secret lovers meeting on the balcony and kissing in the moonlight, holding hands, and singing of their love, in songs such as Maria and One Hand, One Heart. Nevertheless, as soon as their friends and family find out, rivalries grow and it soon becomes as race against time for Tony and Maria to prove their love, not only to themselves, but to those around them.
And this is where I must stop myself from telling too much. But what I must say is that the musical is a fantastic portrayal of a well known classic. It is the perfect example of a musical that will have you laughing, gasping, crying and applauding throughout each scene.
The acting is second to none, the choreography is crisp, smooth and professional, and when it comes to the singing; I am nearly lost for words. Meher Pavri’s (Maria) voice is phenomenal to say the least, as her operatic notes will lift you off your seat and give you chills. Hugh Ritchie (Tony), an actor and singer from Brookville ON, will have you feeling every kind of emotion, as his ability to interpret a song and its meaning is nothing short of amazing.
Every single actor, singer and performer was fantastic, which made it difficult to single out a particular “star of the show,” so to speak, as they were equally talented, in many different ways. For example, Victoria Scully (Anita) blew me away with her ability to own the stage, as she performed the hilarious song “America.” The injection of fun and drama was effortlessly delivered, in the musical number “I Feel Pretty,” by the talented Natasha Strilchuk and Andrea Gregorio, in their roles as Consuela and Francisca, whereas there was not a dry eye in the house when Jess McKay (Rosalia) sang the haunting, emotional ballad “Somewhere.”
Sarah Jones‘ (Velma), along with the entire cast, was exceptional with her impressive choreography, making me want to grab my own dancing shoes and join them on stage. And the Jets Gang (Matthew Eldracher, Dominic Gauthier and Travis Paul) had me crying with laughter at their funny, cheerful and chuckle worthy performance of the song “Gee, Officer Krupke.”
As the show came to an end, the audience rose to their feet in a well deserved standing ovation for the cast and crew. Each performer took their bows to whoops and cheers from the crowds, and the clapping bounced off the theatre walls. As each theatregoer exited, I could hear several of them singing the show tunes to themselves, voicing how much they enjoyed the performance and even a certain lady imitating one of the Puerto Rican girls, as she shook and ruffled her cocktail dress from side to side.
So there you go my Entertainment Fairy Followers. This adaption of West Side Story by Joseph Patrick & Mauruce Galpern is a MUST SEE in my theatrical and musical opinion. It has everything a successful show requires…a great story-line, a shocking twist, an astonishing cast and a killer musical score.
West Side Story is famously described as a modern day adaption of Romeo & Juliet, with its emphasis on forbidden love and heart-breaking losses, but in fact, it can be related to nearly every struggle we face in life.
What I took from the story were three things: (1) Love Knows No Boundaries, (2) Acceptance Is The First Step and (3) Forgiveness Is Everything.
West Side Story is being performed at The Lower Ossington Theatre at 100A Lower Ossignton Avenue, Toronto, ON.
If you want to see this fantastic show for yourself, tickets can be purchased at the theatre box office or by clicking HERE to purchase online.
Performances are at scheduled from Thursday 11th August until Sunday 18th September 2016. Thursday and Friday performances are at 7:30pm, Saturdays are at 3:30pm and 7:30pm, and Sundays at 3:30pm.
Hope you all enjoy it as much as I have.
Love: The Entertainment Fairy xxx