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West Side Story production is energetic, if not artistic

West Side Story
MIT Musical Theatre Guild.
Directed by Michele Travis.
Written by Arthur Laurents.
Music by Leonard Bernstein.
Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim.
Starring Jonathan Hardy '95,
Gina Marisol Marquez '97,
Bruce Applegate '94, and Jose O. Velez '92.
Sala de Puerto Rico.
Nov. 18, 19, 20 at 8:00 p.m.

By J. Michael Andresen
Associate Arts Editor

The Musical Theater Guild's production of the tragic musical West Side Story is very impressive. This is a hard show, yet it comes off very well. The acting, the singing, and especially the dancing are excellent.

West Side Story is the musical version of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. Instead of the Montagues and the Capulets, though, it is the Americans and the immigrant Puerto Ricans who are at odds. (This is vaguely appropriate, considering the venue.) Tony (Jonathan Hardy '95) and Maria (Gina Marisol Marquez '97) are the young lovers of opposed camps. They fall in love, much to the dismay of Riff (Bruce Applegate '94) and Bernardo (Jose O. Velez '92) who respectively lead the American and Puerto Rican gangs. All ends in tragedy, of course, in a plot that closely mimics the classic Shakespeare love story.

The most striking aspect of this production is the dancing. The stage is set up so that a large dance floor extends the length of the Sala with seating on three sides. This accommodates the dancing perfectly. It allows the large-scale dance scenes that were intended and gives a wonderful view to all members of the audience. Much of the choreography is borrowed from the original production (director and choreographer Jerome Robbins), and the dancers perform wonderfully. From the ballet to the jitterbugging, the graceful enthusiasm of the dancers is a delight to watch.

Unfortunately, the set which works so well with the dancing makes problems for the singing. Songs sung on the floor in the middle can only be sung at part of the audience, the majority of which is always either behind or to the side of the singer. When this is combined with the fact that none of the cast has a particularly powerful voice, some of the majesty of the music is lost. Marquez is particularly faint (despite the use of a microphone), and her voice is often lost in the pit orchestra or drowned out when singing in duets. Despite this shortcoming, everyone sings with such amazing clarity that no line is lost to any member of the audience.

As actors, the troupe is great at comedy but woefully bad at tragedy. The humorous lines were delivered wonderfully, and acted just as well. Riff is appropriately riled as a rebellious teenager, and Bernardo is perfectly motivated as an immigrant with a chip on his shoulder. Tony very believably falls in love as he sings Maria, his eyes alone expressing the depth of his feeling.

On the flip side, none of the cast portrayed anger or grief at all believably. Anita (Grace E. Colon G), though delightful for most of the performance, seems only indifferent when she learns of her boyfriend Bernardo's murder. Marquez is particularly weak in her part. Marquez is not up to the challenge of the part of Maria, who must segue from passionate love to intense grief to unbridled anger in the course of one act. Though she has a wonderful singing voice, she had only one facial expression for the whole performance which was simply not adequate.

Overall, this is a dynamic production with a lot of energy. It is very entertaining from the dancing to Bernstein's wonderful music (which the pit orchestra handles excellently). Though perhaps not the most artistic production of the tragic musical, it is none the less fun.