Tuesday, September 13, 2016

When You're A Jet

When you're a Jet,
You're a Jet all the way
From you're first Cigarette,
To you're last dyin' day.

Jet Song from West Side Story

Sunday afternoon, I too was a Jet. And I was a Shark also for that matter. Heck, I was everybody in the musical. You see, the very intimate, in-your-face and among the seats staging at the Orlando Shakes Margeson Theater is such that you feel like you are not merely watching the action, you're in it! I swear I almost capped a bitch in the ass, motha fucker! Oh, sorry, that level of violence and language would come much later in the timeline of gangs in America, wouldn't it?

Well not to say violence isn't a part of the West Side Story of course. By my count, three dudes die, one has his ear slashed and many have cuts and bruises. Maria though, of course, would suffer the most, one would believe, with an eternally broken heart.

The Shakes players done did it well. I was afraid before going in that they'd do like they and other troupes do and re-interpret the musical into a more modern show. Now not saying that'd be totally bad. WSS is rather dated "Daddy-O." I don't think gangs "rumble" anymore. And certainly not by acclamation of a War Council with rules of engagement and such. Actually, what the fuck am I talking about. This is the epitome of Broadway fantasy. None of it's real. Heck, I just read that the so-called gang slang used in the play is total gibberish entirely made up by the writers.

But as usual, I digress. Suffice it to say the show was wholesomely rendered from it's original Broadway form. The late 1950s version which also spawned the Oscar winning film. The dance and the style was a solid rendition of that mid-century avant guard blending with popular musical theater that's so emblematic of shows of the time. The music, played quite admirably and, happily, nice, full and really loud by the Shakes orchestra. (Take that Orlando Symphony "softer is better" losers!)

The songs are some of my favorites of all musical theater. "Maria" sung by Mark Koeck playing Tony was belted out strongly and with great vocal range but this guy does need a smidgen of work on his acting. Like his acutely chiseled face and super-tight, muscular body seems to betray, I think this guy's all about the calculated precision of a task rather than the emotions behind it. Like a lot of young performers, it's almost like I can telepathically hear his brain screaming out exact stage directions and reminders about pose, expression and intonation, but his heart, the feeling heart, is all like zzzzzzz.

Carly Evans playing Maria also couldn't act her way out of a paper bag but her singing was pretty good. Again, thankfully, nice and loud.

This show, like Spamalot, tells me that when it comes to the Orlando Shakespeare directors they assume the whole audience is hard of hearing. Well at least one Orlando venue gets it...it's Florida: We're old!

My personal award for best performance in vocals goes to Alejandra Martinez belting out a beautiful rendition of "Somewhere" commencing the stunningly simple yet glorious Heaven-esque dance sequence. She had a more passionate and emotional style which was absolutely essential for this song, probably my all-time fav in any Broadway musical, for sure.

Well the lady to the right of me was actually bawling during the final scene when Maria is crouched over Tony's dead body on the ground so I guess the show was pretty good after all. For all its 50s kitchiness, pre-trigger happy nowadays racism, comic-book-like characters and a well-worn, "updated" Romeo and Juliette-ish plot, West Side Story is still a great bit of nostalgia with themes of cultural divisiveness, blind entitlement and systematic oppression still very much prescient today.

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