West Side Story at PPAC, and farewell
I can't give West Side Story, playing at the Providence Performing Arts Center through May 1, the attention it deserves today - I'm just too behind trying to finish up a whole bunch a stuff. More on that in a sec. But first let me say - how great is this show?! Yeah, it's still the kinda sappy 50s musical with all those awesome songs (Maria, I Want To Live In America) and the finger-snapping boy gangs.
So why go see this stage revival?
Because, my friends, it's waaay more relevant to Providence today than you'd think. The show is faithful to the best parts of the movie - the choreography! the ridiculously beautiful music! the double-denim (men) and twirly skirts (women)! - and updates all the rest. Remember, this is about how racism between whites and Hispanics poisons a love story. In this version, the Puerto Ricans speak in Spanish at times, and their English is accented. The violent racism that sparks the gangs' turf wars finds physical expression in the gun that a cop brandishes - mostly just at the "spics," not the (perhaps rougher, certainly more vulgar) white kids. The gangs still snap their fingers, but we get a much less glossy look at the casual brutality they inhabit. It all makes the story, which of course is based on Romeo and Juliet, that much more modern. The ending, too, is not as trite - instead of the gangs coming together to carry Tony's body to his funeral, there's a much smaller, more personal gesture, when a white gang member passes a black scarf to Maria, still kneeling at his body, then stands there awkwardly as she won't let go of his hands. Like the whole production, it's an updated, grittier version that, for today's audience, packs a bigger punch than the once-groundbreaking original.
And let's not talk about the voices! This may be the touring cast, with none of the Broadway originals who won the best-album Tony last year, but you'd never know it. From the opening gang dance number, which thrilled this viewer with its abundant eye candy and wink at homoeroticism, to the hopeful dream sequence of There's A Place For us, the huge cast fill the PPAC stage, and sound system, as full as I've ever seen it. Two and a half hours of total abandonment. Good stuff.
And that's all I have time for because today, sniff, is my penultimate day in the office here at Rhode Island Monthly. Even though I hope to continue writing for the magazine - including the odd review, so fun! - I'm having a bit of a hard time. It's never easy leaving a job, especially one where the work is, well, just great. And having worked here for three years, I'm really going to miss the crew. There are some super talented, but mostly just super cool, people here. Stay in touch, guys!
I'm going to Block Island to be the editor of the weekly there and put my daughter in the totally awesome little school. Hey, if you can't afford private school, this is as good as it gets! I'm really looking forward to beach and ocean time - Providence, beloved home of the last three years, this is the one area where you kinda let me down - and doing some fun stuff at the paper. If you ever want a window into a world that's still Rhode Island, but totally other, check out its (in the process of being relaunched) website.
And I'll still be back, all the time. So... see you at PPAC!