The rivalry still exists between the teenage street gangs in the new revival of the musical “West Side Story,” but with a more realistic approach.
In previous productions and the film, the Puerto Rican Sharks always have spoken and sang their songs in English. But in the new version, Bernardo and his gang will speak and belt out some of the signature tunes in Spanish.
“The language makes it more authentic and shows even more how different the two worlds of these gangs really are,” said German Santiago, who portrays Bernardo in the revival’s national tour, which stops Sept. 27 at Arizona State University Gammage Auditorium.
Santiago said it could be difficult to follow if people don’t know Spanish, but audiences have understood the concept.
“The musical is well beloved and many folks have seen the movie, so they know what’s happening,” said Santiago. “But even if you haven’t, I still believe that you know what is going on.”
Santiago said the plot remains intact with the revival.
“It speaks true to anyone who has ever encountered prejudice in love when people did not approve of it,” Santiago said.
Set in the 1950s, “West Side Story” is considered a musical “modern” version of “Romeo & Juliet.” The street gangs, the American Jets and Puerto Rican Sharks, are in an intense rivalry with one another.
Tony, a member of the Jets, falls in love with Maria, the sister of Bernardo, the leader of the Sharks.
Famous songs in the musical include “Tonight,” “America,” “Jet Song,” “One Hand, One Heart” and “Somewhere.”
The original Broadway production debuted in 1958, followed by the famous 1961 film with Natalie Wood and Rita Moreno. Then a 1980 revival with Debbie Allen returned to New York with acclaim.
In 2009, the Spanish-English revival debuted on Broadway, which is now a national tour.
Taking on the role of Bernardo has been a challenge for Santiago, particularly because of the intense dance sequences and fight scenes.
“You have to be built for endurance to do this show eight times a week,” he said. “Doing yoga keeps my body from falling apart with a show like this.”
In addition, Santiago said Bernardo’s personality is the complete opposite of himself.
“Bernardo is nothing like me because I’m an extremely quiet person,” he said. “I do understand him though, because in the midst of the violence he is trying to make the best of it all.”