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Entertainment & Lifestyle

Revived ‘West Side Story’ back in Akron

5/2/2013 - West Side Leader
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By Kathleen Folkerth

From left, Ricardo Rique-Sanchez, Andres Acosta and Mark Deler are shown in a scene from “West Side Story.”
Photo: Carol Rosegg 2012
DOWNTOWN AKRON — When “West Side Story” comes to The University of Akron’s E.J. Thomas Performing Arts Hall stage May 7-8, fans of the musical will see the choreography as it was originally created more than 50 years ago by Jerome Robbins.

Andres Acosta, who plays the Sharks’ gang leader Bernardo in the national tour, said current choreographer Joey McKneely has recreated the original dancing step-by-step.

“If you compare the choreography to even the one in the movie, it’s the same,” Acosta said in a phone interview. “But it’s sharper, the legs are higher and the turns are faster because dance has evolved.”

The musical, with its Arthur Laurents book, Leonard Bernstein music and Stephen Sondheim lyrics, debuted on Broadway in 1957. The 1961 film version won 10 Oscars, including Best Picture. A modernized version of the “Romeo and Juliet” story, it centers on the brief love story of Maria and Tony, who try to rise above intolerance.

Acosta, who was born in Colombia but grew up in Florida, said he remembers seeing the movie as a child, and it made an impression on him.

“It wasn’t until I started doing theater in high school and went to college [at Florida State University] that I realized what a masterpiece ‘West Side Story’ is,” he said. “And that it is composed, choreographed and written by some of the biggest in the business and the history of musical theater.”

Acosta, whose character is Maria’s brother, said there has been slight tinkering with the show. For the 2009 Broadway revival, Spanish language dialogue was added to make the Puerto Rican characters seem more realistic. He said initially audiences didn’t respond well to that addition. It’s been pared down, but in the current tour, his character does have some dialogue and lyrics in Spanish.

“They narrowed it down to a very character-driven choice, to Bernardo, who is not wanting to conform to the new [American] culture,” Acosta said.

He added that the stage version is also darker than the film.

“It’s certainly not a bring-the-entire-family type of piece,” he said, noting that there is a rape attempt on one of the characters. “There’s a lot of fighting and violence and racism and bigotry and hate. The way our director put it is we have to create a world for Maria and Tony’s love not to survive.”

It’s that setting that helps convey the musical’s powerful message, Acosta said.

“Honestly, it’s that extreme of darkness that makes this beautiful love story so beautiful,” he said.

“West Side Story” will be staged in Akron May 7 at 8 p.m. and May 8 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets, ranging from $36.50 to $66.50, are available at the Thomas Hall Ticket Office, 198 Hill St., or by calling 330-972-7570, and at all TicketMaster outlets or by calling 800-745-3000. Groups of 15 or more should call 855-824-3405. To order tickets online, visit ticketmaster.com.

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