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February 06, 1966 - Image 8

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 1966-02-06

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Maria (Connie Barron) and Tony (Keith Chochim) captivate each other amorously
and harmoniously.


Sailboats hang from the walls
while the drone of an electric saw
hums in the background of "West
Side Story" rehearsal. Click --.
a tape recorder is turned on and
from a mesh of unfinished iron
props, appears a synchronized
team of slithering Sharks and
hissing jets. The two angry groups
move slowly towards each other,
aggression and rhythm intensify-
ing as they get closer. Bernardo
(Roger Browdy), leader of the
Sharks, and Riff (Mike Weis-
barth), leader of the Jets, jeer,
glare and spit at one another;
the group gets excited, the music
louder and a pattern of violence
and hatred is choreographed to
the shrill notes of brass, bass, and
police sirens. Enter, 0 f f ic e r
Krupke (Fred Rutberg) and Lt.
Shranck (John Munsell) who clear
the stage of the seething Puerto
Ricans. Riff swears to drive the
Sharks off the street and makes
plans to clallenge Bernardo that
evening at a dance at the gym.
Cut . . . the saw still buzzes and
the director of UAC's Musket
production, Jack Rouse, steps for-
Before him is assembled a
mild mannered group of side-
burned, blue-jeaned, sweat-shirted,
Sharks and Jets. They prop them-
selves on the. floor, doing deep
knee bends and plies as he pleads
with them, "In the name of God,
take pills . . . any pills, just
don't get sick."
They all agree, then bounce
flexibly back to the set to do a
strenuous routine of "The Pro-
logue''-running up and down the
four iron towers, dancing a split-
second timing rendition of ag-
gression and violence.
Beneath the spontaneity and
agility of the dancers, there is
strength, defiance and hatred. It
is through the disciplined phy-
siques of the dancers and the+
powerful percussive rhythm and
instrumentation of the music, thata
"West Side Story" becomes a
unique musical presentation.
The "Romeo Juliet" plot is
touching, but -not new. In this
production, the plot has been sub-
verted with contemporary prob-
lems of racial discrimination, "Go
back where you cane from Spic,
sure it's a free country, I ain't got
the right. But it's a country with
laws and I can find the right" . .
phrases like this gain sympathy
for the PR's by showing the
prejudice of the law.

The problems of teenagers
fighting a detached and purpose-
less life through violence can have
no sociological remedy. The ab-
surd rigemerole when .JD's are
brought to custody is given a
devastatingly humorous treatment
in the mimicking "Officer Krupke"
"No matter who or what is
eatin' at you, you show it buddy
boys, you are DEAD-you wanna
live, you play it cool!" West Side
tackles this side of "sociological"
trouble too . . . the- tough cold
mask of violence hiding the scared
youth of today, etc. etc. And, in
one final gulp, the plot also tries
to swallow the sweet and sour
cynicism, pride, and idealism of
today's society. Needless to say,
this is quite a mouthful for any
one show to chew.
This overloaded contemporary
idiom is fortunately lightened by
the superb dancing. The tensions,
the instinctive hates and animosi-
ties are rhythmically and preci-
sionally choreographed (by Di-
rector Rouse) and enacted (by the
entire cast) in a beautifully well
functioning portrayal of emotion,
working from the bottom up.
Whereas feet propel the pro-
duction, it is the harsh and tingl-
ing music which gives them their
incentive. Under the direction of
Bruce Fisher, a thirty piece or-
chestra, including an imported
Latin American percussion set,
accompany the feet in expressing
a rich vocabulary of sentiment,
discord and conflict.
The . complexity of dialect in
music, song, dance, and speaking,
makes "West Side Story" one of
the most difficult productions to
perform. The music goes from
sentimental throat-lumping bal-
lads through a finger-snappin'
jazz interpretation, to the hot
blooded temperment of Latin
American rhythms.
"'It would be nice to hear some-
one accidentally whistling some-
thing of mine, somewhere. ."
said Leonard Bernstein in 1954.
"Could be, who knows ... there's
something due any day . . ."
whistles Tony in Scene 2. Tony is
the "boy-gone-good" working at
the local drugstore. He is bright
eyed, idealistic, and full of in-
clinations that "something's com-
ing, something good." As a re-
sult, he is hesitant to accept
Riff's proposal to meet with the
gang at the dance that night.
However, he is persuaded by Riff's
pleas and his own lingering loyalty
to the gang, and thus, he agrees

to meet with them. Cut ...
A pert, 5'2" girl in a black leo-
tard climbs gracefully over an
array of marimbas and marachas.
On stage she is the naive, quick
witted, and lovely sister of Ber-
nardo, Maria. Off stage, she is
Connie Barron, a Jr. in voice and
"much the same," according to
Keith Chochim (Tony). Her voice
and her fawn-like movement add
a soothing tone to the strident
echoes of knives, shouts, and shots
which surround her. When asked
if she would like to go into acting
as a career, "I like it so much,"
she said, "but we'll see " .
And we saw . . . she bounced
down the stairs and into the
bridal shop with Bernardo's girl-
friend, Anita (Sandy Goetz). A
squirming Maria is being fitted
for a dress in preparation for the
dance at the gym. Apparently
Maria hasabeen having premon-
tions too, as she begs with Anita
to make "thee neck jist one eench
lower pleez . . tonight is the
real beginning of my life as a
young lady in America." The flam-
ing Anita gives her a firm "no"
and a compassionate reassurance
that she will be noticed at the

dance. "Your's will be the only
white dress there," she says.
The soft refinement of this
scene is harshly replaced by the
cacaphonous clatter of "The
Dance at the Gym." The tribal
routines of both gangs are inter-
rupted by Gladhand (David-Rhys-
Anderson)the neighborhood wel-
fare worker. With whistle in
mouth and hands frantically wav-
ing in the air, he orders "everyone
to get in a circle for a nice boy
and girl dance." Thus follows the
most surrealistic boy and girl
dance number ever seen, one of
the dancing highspots of the show.
"Boys and girls" latch onto an
uptempo staccatto rhythm and
quickly move through an intrigu-
ing arrangement of mambo, jazz,
and ballet. In the height of the
frenzy, there is a sharp interlude
of bells, a light rhythmic pattern
of percussion, lights fade, Maria
and Tony see each other while the
gangs become a chorus for the
dreamlike meeting of the two
lovers, Tony holds Maria and his
audience in a trance as he sings
"Maria." But, all are quickly
brought back to reality as Ber-
nardo intervenes and makes Maria




leave Tony at once, "Maria, we are
a family . . . he is one of them!:"
She goes, leaving a smitten
Tony behind . . . and the stage
Maria alights once again for the
balcony scene. In hushed whispers
Tony and Maria sing their love
for each other in the words of the
harmonious "Tonight."
The audience is given little time
to sniff and dwell in the beauty
of this touching scene as Anita
and her vibrant entourage soon
dominate the stage.
The Puerto Rican gang becomes
engaged in a snappy and flippant
discussion about the merits of
living in America. "Life is alright
in America if you are white in
America . . . Ai, here comes the
whole commercial."
Led by Consuelo (Carole Pia-
secki) the troop moves into onel
of the most lively and undulating
numbers of the performance
which involves Flamenco, cha cha,
mambo melodies, glib lyrics and
precision movement.
Cooling off from this hot num-
ber, the Sharks settle into prop
armchairs and fall into nonviolent
discussions about homework, week-

end, etc. It is hard to believe that
these New York twangs and De-
troit-nasally-A's can be. so con-
vincingly turned into the Puerto
Rican ("roll those r's") dialect.
Many, like Maria, have been prac-
ticing their accents with foreign
students or with those who have
had Spanish 457. Anita (Sandy
Goetz) seems to have bee} fed
intraveniously with Latin Blood,
but surprisingly, she has only
German, English and Detroit heri-
tage. Nevertheless, her feet, acting,
singing and presence . . . suggest
the contrary, charged, fiery tem-
perment. A graduate student in
speech, Sandy speaks of "West
Side Story" as "aiot of living alot
of us haven't done," yet somehow
they all manage to live a vivid
vicarious life.
"Cracko, Jacko, Down goes a
teenage hoodlum" and up goes the
curtain on Doc's Drugstore where
the Jets are preparing for their
war council. Doc, the typical
grown-up who doesn't understand
"the youth of today" serves as a
verbal prelude to the parody of
adult-idiocy . . . "Gee Officer
Their spoofing and slapstick

calls for a quick character change to marry Tony. They echo back in
back 'to the "adult world" when a catty refrain that she must be
they must negotiate with Bernar-' "out of her head."
do. They make plans for the up- Chino (Mac Jourban) is the shy.
coming fight in a frightening boy of the Sharks, who only wants
mime of today's cold-war coun- peace, does not like trouble, and
cils. The Jets and Sharks call has been picked by Bernardo to
the weapons they will use for a be his sister's husband. He darts
"cool war" ... "sticks, rocks, poles, into the scene, to tell Maria that
cans, bricks, bats, clubs, chains, Tony has killed her brother.
bottles . . ." This is the beginning of a bru-
As is characteristic of scene tal and nightmarish delirium of
changes in this play, they go from events. Anita is sent to Doc's
light to dark, heavy to gay. "Don't Drugstore to warn Tony that
chew gum," shouts Jack and the Chino is out to kill him. At the
delightful wedding scene begins. drugstore, Anita is cruelly taunted
"One Hand, One Heart,'' the by the Jets for her nationality and
pretty couple becomes play people finally in her hysteria, she blurts
in a play wedding with Papa and out a different message for Tony,
Mama Manequin at hand. that Chino has killed Maria in
The game only lasts a moment revenge. Doc delivers the message
and the deafening chant of the to Tony who is numbed with grief;
"Tonight" trio begins. It is a that is, until Maria appears. They
haunting, foreboding refrain which meet for only a moment, then
almost mimicks the meaningful Chino darts in once more and kills
"Tonights" of Maria, Anita, and Tony. There is silent and horrified
Tony. cross-action on the stage as the
The frenzied arrangement sets two stunned gangs are brought to-
the mood for the remainder of the gether by the tragedy.
-play. The action is quick: there's The orchestra fades out and the
a fight, knives flash, tempers electric saw buzzes indifferently in
flare, hatred and hurt pour out the background. The 34 Musketeers
from the dancer's steps, the rearrange themselves at Director
enemy's jeers, the music's counter- Rouse's feet and they discuss, in
point and intensity of the mo- detail, the fighting scenes, the
ment . . . Bernardo kills Riff. In knives they will use. A dog barks,
anguish, Tony kills Bernardo . a phone rings, and Maria goes
sirens, and the frightened gangs through another "I Feel Pretty"
disperse. scene.
9:30 break-to the Mug for When West Side Story opened
Cokes. Roger Browdy (Bernardo) in New York Sept. 26, 1957, the
is a little messy from having spent strident music and passionate hate
the last scene on the floor. "There scenes were not well received. This
haven't been any major casual- certainly was not a typical musi-
ties," he explains. "One sprained cal where one could go and escape
ankle, one cut lip and several into a two hour day-dream of
sore Sharks and Jets." Roger gives pretty girls, fiddles and horses.
a convincingly fierce and angry There was something very real
presentation of a proud young and haunting about the tragic, yet
leader, yet he apparently is quite beautiful serenades, the throbbing
the opposite. He has played only fight songs, and of course, the
in comedies, dances professionally stealthy, calculated, almost sad-
for the Israelt Dance Group, is a istic movements of the dance
Cantor at Hillel, plays in the numbers.
marching band and is a junior in Click: ". . there's something
Engineering . . . "who knows?" due any day . . . something's com-
Act II: opens with Maria and in' . . . something good . ."
her three mewing mates Rosalia When "West Side Story" plays
(Sheilah B e r n s t e i n), Consuelo in Lydia Mendelssohn Theatre
(Carole Piasecki) and Estella Feb. 9-12 it will be a memorable
(Sharon Grubman). Adorned with presentation of contemporary con-
a mirror and a rose and a cape, flict, hatred, and dissent given an
Marie sings to her friends "I Feel unforgettable interpretation by 34
Pretty" as she tells 'of her plans human voices and pairs of feet.



". . . sticks, rocks, poles... the Sharks and Jets get ready to mix."



........ U .

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