On our way to see "Like Me, Like You" (West Side Story adapted to Moroccan colloquial Arabic or darija, transliterated as "F7ali/F7alek") on its opening night, we witnessed a minor street scuffle. Nothing serious, really just guys clowning around in the narrow streets of the Kasbah.
So we were prepared for the stylized depiction for the Kasbah Museum stage of guys with knives battling it out for turf. The turnout for this debut performance (the show continues through Saturday evening), despite the sometimes torrential rains, was fantastic – standing room only. Check "The View From Fez" for Joe Lukawski's in-depth review, with great photos by Omar Chennafi.
Watching the audience was almost as fun as following what was happening on stage. There were families (the large cast had lots of family support), and I was particularly charmed by a couple of 5 or 6 year old girls, whose eyes remained riveted to "Maria" and "Tony" throughout.
If West Side Story was originally going to tell the story of doomed love between a Jewish boy and an Irish Catholic girl, then why not transpose this universal story to Morocco, where the cast of young actors from Tangier and Rabat mirrored the rivalry between Jets and Sharks?
Even though some of the expats in the audience could decipher little of the darija dialogue, the West Side Story songs came through very nicely in their original English – among them "Somewhere" and "I Feel Pretty." Reflecting the tastes of the performers and the audience, the music on offer was eclectic, from Beyoncé to Banat Ziryab, whose live Arab-Andalusian music accompanied the action.
Putting this production together on the fly – the script was being translated in parallel with the rehearsals – and with the onset of heavy rains scrapping plans for an open-air venue, the performance was a miracle. As producer Tom Casserly said "yesterday we had nothing, today there's been a play." He expects even better performances for the next three nights. Even the accidental breaking of a mirror, rather than bringing bad luck, was fortuitous in its dramatic timing.
So, hats off to the talented people who brought this timeless play to Tangier. And to the young actors who earned hearty applause, you have much to be proud of.