All reviews are written by Cappies student critics and edited by Cappies adult mentors prior to publishing.
Two star-crossed lovers face the challenge of their love surviving the hatred and prejudice of two rival bands, but this isn’t Shakespeare. The South Lakes High School Theatre Arts Department’s production of West Side Story took audiences on a tumultuous journey about loyalty, loss, and true love.
The musical, written by Arthur Laurents with music and lyrics by Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim respectively, was based on the Shakespearean tragedy Romeo and Juliet, but set in the 1950’s on the upper east side of New York City. It describes the tense race relations between the Jets, the resident gang of white Americans, with the Sharks, a gang made up of Puerto Rican immigrants. When Maria, the sister of the Shark’s leader, falls in love with a former Jet named Tony the two gangs clash in a violent and bloody rumble. The two then have to cope with the loss of their loved ones, and their love being the target of a fierce gang war.
The show was headlined with a large supporting cast and a few standout leads. Ariana Kruszewski, who played the Puerto Rican ingénue Maria, gave a stunning performance with a pristine soprano voice as she fearlessly tackled Maria’s high notes without a hint of strain. Her realistic innocence stood out among the rough characters surrounding her. Playing opposite her as Tony was Ben Peter, whose charisma and honest portrayal created a character the audience could fall in love with right alongside Maria. Sean McCoy’s Riff created a worthy foil to Peter, with a brash personality and relaxed ‘50’s gangster physicality that created an unbelievably lifelike stage presence. McCoy’s character-appropriate master gestures and classic Brooklyn accent were highlighted in the song “Cool.”
Helen Slvinski played Anita in a brilliant twist on the classic “Confidante” archetype. Slvisnki played with sass and flair when describing how she’d rather live in “America” and her acting diversity was exemplified in the second act, when her character confronted the jet gang alone. As a whole, the cast was always engaging and high-energy, though certain scenes and numbers lacked cohesion. The most noteworthy ensemble being the Jet Boys, who brought both comic relief to the show in the song “Gee Officer Krupke” and brutality in the rumble scenes.
The costumes were all very era, from the puffy-skirted Shark girl dresses to the unified white-sneakered Jets, and featured a color scheme for the two rival gangs. While the lighting used specific colored gels and spotlights to set the mood, the sound struggled a little and many actors could not be heard through their microphones. Special effects in the show included creating a starry night sky. The props crew went all-out, making larger-than-life puppets to represent different ethnicities, and incorporating aspects of the city. Though impressive in stature and design, the puppets unfortunately lacked animation.
With a closed curtain, the South Lakes High School Theatre Arts Department left the audience stunned and silent in a contemporary re-telling of a classic Shakespearean tragedy.