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Musical 'West Side Story' proves to be masterpiece of all time

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From left are Kim Jun-su, Park Kang-hyun and Ko Eun-sung, who alternate in the role of Tony (Anton) Wyzek in the musical,
From left are Kim Jun-su, Park Kang-hyun and Ko Eun-sung, who alternate in the role of Tony (Anton) Wyzek in the musical, "West Side Story." Courtesy of SHOWNOTE

By Dong Sun-hwa

The musical "West Side Story" caused a stir before it began its fourth run in Korea on Nov. 17, owing to its relatively high ticket prices. The price for a VIP ticket was 160,000 won ($123), which is about 6 percent higher than that of other musicals. Such a price hike raised the eyebrows of some theatergoers, but the show itself demonstrated that it still is a must-see masterpiece of all time.

"West Side Story" is a musical inspired by William Shakespeare's (1564-1616) play, "Romeo and Juliet," which is set in the mid-1950s in the Upper West Side of Manhattan in New York City, where two street gangs ― the Polish American Jets and the Puerto Rican Sharks ― fight for dominance of the neighborhood. It is a tale of forbidden love between Tony, a former member of the Jets, and Maria, the younger sister of the Sharks' leader, Bernardo.

Directed and choreographed by Jerome Robbins, the original version of "West Side Story" made its Broadway debut in 1957 and won two Tony awards a year later. It premiered in Korea in 1997 and had its second and third runs in 2002 and in 2007, respectively.

The poster for the musical, 'West Side Story' / Courtesy of SHOWNOTE
The poster for the musical, 'West Side Story' / Courtesy of SHOWNOTE
Although the narrative of a contemporary Romeo and Juliet is not something very fresh for the audience, "West Side Story" still manages to win over hearts with its music and performance. As its choreographer, Julio Monge, said, its true universality lies in its theatricality.

Just like its original version, the Korean adaptation of "West Side Story" also employs a series of distinctive dance moves to unfold the story of the star-crossed lovers and the conflict of the Jets and the Sharks. Sometimes it blends the movements of ballet and modern dance to portray tensions between the two rivals. Other times, it recounts the story of Puerto Rican immigrants through flamenco, mambo and swing dance, captivating the theatergoers with eye-popping Latin dance moves.

But this does not mean that its music falls short of expectations. In addition to well-known numbers like "Maria" and "Tonight," a string of other great pieces, such as "A Boy Like that and I Have a Love," leads the audience members to delve into the emotions of the characters hit by tragedy. Kim Jun-su ― who alternates in the role of Tony with Park Kang-hyun and Ko Eun-sung ― and Han Jae-ah are a perfect pair for "West Side Story," who successfully impart its core message that hatred and violence only breed suffering and loss. By exploring a range of societal challenges that we still face today, "West Side Story" teaches people of the present time a lesson on how they should address these issues.

"West Side Story" is slated to run through Feb. 26 at the Chungmu Art Center in Seoul.


Dong Sun-hwa sunhwadong@koreatimes.co.kr


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