Vancouver Opera's West Side Story, Definitely Not Your DNTOSunday, October 23, 2011
|Leslie Dala, Director|
And yet there is a tidy symmetry between these two events. David Y.H. Lui died on September 16 past and most remember him as one of the co-founders of Ballet B.C. This is what Bill Millerd, Artistic Managing Director of the Arts Club Theatre Company said of Lui:
The history of the Arts Club Theatre Company would be very different without the production of “Jacques Brel is Alive and Well…” that David Y.H. Lui presented at the Seymour Street Arts Club opening in 1972, which went on to run for seven months. As well as putting the Arts Club on the theatrical map in Vancouver, the musical revue introduced to audiences the talents of Leon Bibb, Ann Mortifee, Ruth Nichol, and Pat Rose under the direction of Richard Ouzounian. He will be sorely missed.
Vancouver in our year of 2011 is no longer a city in which arts organizations can be or act 100% independent. I like to think of those famous iconic images of American fighter jets or British bombers photographed with all the people that keep the planes up in the air. Every Vancouver arts organization has a support staff that would amaze most of us.
It is also symmetrically tidy that with the help of Lui the Arts Club Theatre has made the musical a popular feature of Vancouver stage life. And further so that our Vancouver Opera (never known for playing safe all the time) has gone out on a limb with a production that is definitely not an opera but a full blown musical with Broadway production values. Indeed Leonard Bernstein's West Side Story, with lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and choreography by Jerome Robbins was first in Broadway in 1957 and there was a revival in Broadway in 2009.
My granddaughter Rebecca and I watched the 1961 film a couple of weeks ago to get us ready for today’s matinee. I further prepared her (and enjoyed it so much reprising my memories) by listening together two excellent jazz trio interpretations of Leonard Bernstein’s music by Oscar Peterson (killer versions of Maria and Tonight) and André Previn (killer versions of America, Maria and Gee, Officer Krupke). Both albums are in my short desert island music list.
I am happy to report that today’s performance satisfied me beyond my expectations. Rebecca went further and told me she preferred this production to the 1961 film. While watching the very good dancers and the musical interpretation of Berstein’s score by Vancouver Opera Musical Director Leslie Dala and his 30 piece orchestra (more on the orchestra later) I marveled at the lighting and the simple set. All worked well and contrasted with the poor reproduction of people wanting to see a bad film DVD version (not bad but it does not compare with real lights, real music and performers that cast real shadows).
I kept looking at my granddaughter hoping that she would be able to discern the difference between listening to the fidelity (as in high) of live music and its poor remote relative the MP-3 file.
There was a moment during the duo, Tonight, between Tony ( played by fine voiced tenor Colin Ainsworth) and Maria (a sultry and thankfully most unnatalie Lucia Cesaroni) when a couple of spotlights cast shadows on the walls behind them that were virtuoso lighting and had my eyes glued to the wall and not to the actors!
This musical production, one that perhaps could not have been performed by the Arts Club Theatre at the Stanley, would have been a loss to all of us had it not been for the Vancouver Opera’s decision to be just a bit more adventurous. That they have should I hope bring lots of money into their coffers and would further hope that they dare to seek adventure again.
I cannot stop here without singling out at least some of the performers. When Rebecca met Scott Augustine who plays the Jet leader, Riff, backstage, she said, “I like you more than the film version Riff.” Dani Jazzar as the Sharks leader Bernardo (and Maria’s brother) was big, strong and just right for that Latino part.
From our row (the 13th) Cleopatra Williams who plays Anita, Bernardo’s girl, looked a bit like Helena Bonham Carter but also was the sexy stereotype of the Latin woman and she did this well while at the same time convincing me that she truly understood the love that Maria had for the man (in this musical the men are all boys) that had killed her Bernardo.
And then there is the choreography of Jerome Robbins and the dancers that interpreted his moves. That for me was almost the best. What was the best? Wait for Gee, Office Krupke with its baudy lyrics. It is a hoot. That’s the best!
|Ari Barnes, cellist, Rebecca was in awe|
West Side Story will continue until October 29 with a matineé on the 29th.
I asked Rebecca to accompany me to look over the orchestra pit where I pointed out my friends, trombonist Jeremy Berkman, Bass trombonist Sharman King, cellists Peggy Lee and Ariel (Ari) Barnes. I heard her gasp as she saw Barnes ( later musical director Leslie Dala told me, “Ari has that effect on most women who see them.
Backstage I noticed that Leslie Dala’s hair was looking very longish, a sort of like his fellow Hungarian Franz Lizt. Dala gave Rebecca and I a most interesting account of Lizt’s virtues.
I was happy to read up in the surtitles that Martha Lou Henley had generously contributed to today's performance.
And finally out of curiosity and in the vein that I began above about arts organizations not being able to exist in isolation I asked Jeremy Berkman (Co-Musical Director of Vancouver’s Turning Point Ensemble) how many of the musicians there today were part of the ensemble. Here is his emailed reply:
I hope you and your daughter [sic] enjoyed (I know that's not the appropriate word) West Side Story. It was great to see you - and in response to your query,
Members of the Vancouver Opera West Side Story Orchestra (30 players) with some sort of Turning Point affiliation:
Current Core Members:
Ari Barnes, Cello
Caroline Gauthier, bass clarinet
Jeremy Berkman, Trombone
Ingrid Chiang, Bassoon
Founding TPE member (no longer in core)
Peggy Lee, Cello
Players who will join Turning Point at some point in the 2011/12 season
Mark Ferris (Vancouver Snapshots) and Andrea Siradze (Folk Songs) Violins
Tom Shorthouse (Jump for Joy) and Jim Littleford (Vancouver Snapshots) Trumpets
Sharman King Trombone (Jump for Joy)
Peggy Lee, (Jump for Joy) Cello
Turning Point will present Folk Songs: featuring a live performance of Luciano Berio's thrilling composition based on his "original" folk songs - with guest Canadian Soprano Fides Krucker (who performed the work under Berio's supervision extensively in the 1990s) - and a new work Vancouver based composer Dorothy Chang - Three Windows. Nov. 9/10 at the Fei and Milton Wong Theatre- SFU Woodwards.
But let's give the last word to Leslie Dala, " Alex we (Vancouver Opera) were around before the Turning Point Ensemble." But you know what I mean? Right? The rhino and the little bird have to work together.
Turning Point Ensemble
Finger Snapping Cool