I got so overwhelmed with the opportunities that $12 tickets to the Shubert Theater in New Haven would give us, that I forgot to use my favorite site Common Sense Media. If I had looked at MusicalReviewer.com, I would have known that this play, while beautifully choreographed and wonderfully orchestrated, is actually recommended for children 12/14 and up.
I have a 12, almost 13 year old, but I also have a ten year old. I told the girls this play was a modern adaptation of Romeo and Juliet, which they know well, but because I never saw this play, or watched the movie, I assumed it was more about the conflicted doomed love of Romeo and Juliet, a.k.a. Tony and Maria.
Silly me. This play had less to do with love and more to do with society. How we view immigrants. The struggle to adapt to a new culture while maintaining the culture of the homeland. Stereotypes. Racism. Gang violence. Gang mentality. Rape. Hmmm....pretty heavy stuff for a 12 and 10 year old.
Thankfully much of the innuendo passed over my girls heads. The fact that my $12 tickets put us in the last row of the theater also helped. The acoustics of this theater are not great. This will be our last $12 purchase. I had hoped it would gain us access to more events, but I realized that my girls still need to be close enough to see the emotion, to clearly hear the words, and to look at the action, not view it from above, in order to emotionally connect with the performance. I would rather attend fewer shows and pay more for better seats......
But.....the location of our seats shielded us from having many hard questions to answer. Not those of race, society and cultural identity, but of general bawdiness, sexual gestures, and innuendo. Greg and I passed concerned looks over the girls’ heads as I struggled with the attempted rape scene. Thankfully Lilah was asleep dreaming about balloons. She did not wake up until the gunshot that killed Tony was fired and she thought her balloons were popping.
I thought I made a huge mistake by bringing the girls to this show. I considered leaving during intermission but Grace wanted to stay. The dancing was captivating, the music was powerful (even if we could not hear the lyrics....) and being the artist that she is, she felt part of the experience. She has to learn about the harder issues in life eventually. I don’t want to shield her from everything, but I do want control over how these issues are introduced. Being introduced through art is one way to initiate harder discussions. For me it is kinder and gentler than seeing something on television or in a movie.
We have seen many productions from Broadway productions of Mary Poppins and Beauty and the Beast, to renowned theater company’s adaptations of Romeo and Juliet and Macbeth, to local children’s productions of Midsummer’s Night’s Dream and Secret Garden. I am sad to place West Side Story at the bottom of our list. As our repertoire of musical and theatrical experiences grows, it will serve them well to compare and contrast this experience against the others. We have to find the learning opportunities amongst the good and the bad, and even sometimes, the mistakes we make.