Following the first matinee of “West Side Story,” on Sunday, Jan. 26, actors gathered on stage to answer questions from audience members.
From the rear of the 227-seat Firehouse Arts Center theater in Pleasanton, one woman stood and asked, “How do you feel when you’re acting in this kind of a story, relating to issues of today in our schools and own neighborhoods? Are you trying to tell us something?”
Although without makeup, costumes and hairstyles it was difficult to discern which actor was speaking, one replied, “I’d like people to take away that unreasonable violence is unnecessary. All the things that happened in the story, shouldn’t have happened. And right now, in our time, there is a lot of gun violence around us that shouldn’t be happening. If I feel shocked — and we’re only characters in the story — I can’t imagine what it’s like for people who have actually experienced gun violence.”
Introduced 63 years ago, West Side Story remains a stirring, dynamic American musical: on the west side of New York City, the Jets – a gang made up primarily of white Eastern European immigrants, and the Sharks – a gang of Puerto Rican immigrants, battle each other to claim territory in the increasingly crowded city. One night, hostile emotions are amplified during a gymnasium dance when Tony, one of the Jets’ founders who is now inactive, and Maria, the recently arrived sister of Bernardo, the Sharks' leader, spot each other across the crowded room and fall in love at first sight.
Heightened hatred and jealousies lead the gangs to plan a rumble. Maria asks Tony to foster peace between the Jets and Sharks, which, unheeded, leads to a series of tragic events not only for the gangs, but more personally for Maria and Tony.
Produced by the West Coast Repertory Theatre, director Noel Anthony Escobar and choreographer Joy Sherratt chose to focus on “telling the authentic story.” “That was our goal,” Sherratt said.
Added Escobar, “As we celebrate PCRT’s 10th anniversary, West Side Story joins a small list of the musicals worthy of the Firehouse stage. Since West Side Story’s premiere on Broadway in 1957, it has become an international phenomenon, and a blockbuster film in 1961, with a forthcoming remake in 2020 directed by Steven Spielberg.
“With its themes of love striving to rise above hatred, the fear of immigrants, and the toxicity of racism, West Side Story speaks to us today as urgently and as relevantly as ever,” according to Escobar.
The score by Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim is a beloved soundtrack that includes “Cool,” “Tonight,” “America,” “Maria,” “I Feel Pretty,” and “Somewhere.”
The superb PCRT performances accentuate the show’s underlying battling themes of menace and desire with haunting hints of love, hope and forgiveness.
Upcoming performances are scheduled on Thursday, Jan. 30, at 7:30 p.m.; Friday, Jan. 31, at 8 p.m.; Saturday, Feb. 1, at 2 and 8 p.m.; Thursday, Feb. 6, at 7:30 p.m.; Friday, Feb. 7, at 8 p.m.; Saturday, Feb. 8, at 2 and 8 p.m., and Sunday, Feb. 9, at 2 p.m.
Tickets range from $25 to $46. The Firehouse is located at 4444 Railroad Ave., in downtown Pleasanton.
Offering another perspective during Sunday’s Q & A, an actor said, “I think the really powerful thing about this piece is the poignant juxtaposition dealing with a period piece – we’re all dressed up as ‘50s and ‘60s kids – and subject matter that’s a graphic portrayal of something we should have figured out by now, but haven’t.”