Race and violence meaningfully addressed by Wakefield High School’s gripping “West Side Story”


Dominique Lopez-Piper and Sam Nelson (Jorge Acevedo)
April 17, 2013

All reviews are written by Cappies student critics and edited by Cappies adult mentors prior to publishing.

Alexander Eichner, a student at T. C. Williams High School , reviews “West Side Story” performed by Wakefield High School as part of The Cappies Critics and Awards Program.

As the growing Hispanic population in America becomes more politically, socially, and economically important, Wakefield High School’s West Side Story provides great insight into contemporary issues of racial prejudice and the ‘importance’ of being American born, more relevant than ever after more than half a century.

The show evolved from the concepts and tastes of director/choreographer Jerome Robbins, writer Arthur Laurents, composer Leonard Bernstein, and up-and-coming lyricist Stephen Sondheim, and the 1957 Broadway production was hailed as a great innovation in musical theatre for its tragic plot and exciting choreography. The stage show was adapted into a 1961 movie which was similarly well-received and won ten Academy Awards, and there have been several revivals on Broadway and London’s West End.

West Side Story is a modern retelling of William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. The Jets, sons of working class Polish-Americans, and the Sharks, Puerto Rican immigrants are two rival gangs in Upper West Side Manhattan. As the tension escalates, Tony, a sometimes Jet, and Maria, sister of the lead Shark, fall in love and attempt to reconcile the two violent groups in order to remain together. The show was considered “modern” and “edgy” for its discussion of juvenile delinquency and immigration.

Dominique Lopez Piper translated the various exultations, worries, and sorrows of Maria wonderfully onstage, and her powerful operatic voice was stunning in numbers such as “Tonight.” Anita, played by Carla Astudillo, had gusto and an excellent sense of comic timing that brought fantastic energy to her scenes.

At the heart of the show’s conflict were the rival gang leaders, Riff of the Jets and Bernardo of the Sharks, played by Jesse Remedios and Jhonny Maldonado, respectively. Each had a commanding presence onstage, and the energy and class with which they led their ensembles helped ameliorate some of the cast's haphazard execution of the choreography. Remedios was an especially notable dancer, and his commitment to the role was evident. The two also had an electric dynamic together, as in their thrilling duel during the rumble.

The large ensemble numbers were often hit or miss. Much of the “Dance at the Gym” seemed hastily organized, though the fight choreography was beautifully chaotic and gripping, as in the Rumble. In “Gee, Officer Krupke,” the Jets managed through their individual characterizations and cohesion as an ensemble to create a charming and enjoyable number, and Karl Green in the role of Action stood out for his consistent characterizations and passion. Perhaps the best ensemble number was “America,” in which the sharp wit and dancing talent of Astudillo was supported by the harmonies of the Sharks girls.

Despite some difficulties and weaknesses, the cast was gripping and enjoyable to watch through the show. Wakefield has a strong cast and many well-executed songs. The cast’s mature treatment of the show’s social message forced the audience to meaningfully confront contemporary issues of race and violence.

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