Tour tells a more balanced, bilingual ‘West Side Story’
El Hispanic News
Portland, OR — The musical “West Side Story” has centered on the clash of rival gangs and cultures since its inception in the 1950s, but it hasn’t been a terribly fair fight.
Audiences were given more of a chance to get to know the “Jets” — the white gang — than the Puerto Rican “Sharks,” and all of the dialogue and song lyrics were in English, denying the Puerto Rican characters the opportunity to express themselves naturally.
The current touring production of “West Side Story,” which will be presented in Portland Jan. 3-8 at the Keller Auditorium, has evened the battlefield a bit. The Sharks speak and sing in a mixture of Spanish and English, reflecting both their reality and that of New York City today.
“It equalizes [the Sharks] to the other gang,” says Evy Ortiz. “The audience empathizes more.”
Ortiz plays Maria, the young Puerto Rican woman who falls in love with Tony, a young man with ties to the Jets.
The emphasis on authentic language would likely have posed a challenge for Natalie Wood, the non-Latina actress who famously portrayed the star-crossed lover Maria in the 1961 movie version. Not so for Ortiz, the daughter of a first generation Puerto Rican immigrant father and second generation Puerto Rican-American mother. Echoing some of the themes of “West Side Story,” her maternal grandfather did not like life in the United States and hated speaking English, while her grandmother loved her new home and language.
Her family plans to see Ortiz perform in the show for the first time this spring. “They’re going to be the worst critics,” she says, laughing. Ortiz is bracing herself for remarks like, “You don’t really sound Puerto Rican.” But mostly, “I think they’ll just be proud to see me in it.”
Reassuring her in the meantime is the fact that the director helped her reach beyond stereotype to find the deep humanity in her character.
“I think this version does a pretty good job of never trying to make fun or stereotype our side of the story,” Ortiz says.
Also helping is that in keeping with the spirit of musical’s tragic inspirational source — Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” — some of the lighter musical theater comedy elements have been removed, making for a grittier production that more accurately reflects the strife among the characters. Some of the more dated dialogue has also been removed in an effort to make the show feel more timeless.
“It seems a bit more real,” Ortiz says. “Spanish is so prevalent here now. … There can still be a divide among the cultures. I think the show’s definitely relevant because of those reasons.”
For more information and tickets, visit www.BroadwayAcrossAmerica.com/Portland or call the Portland Opera box office at 503-241-1802.
Este artículo también está disponible en / This post is also available in: Spanish
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