Dateline: Upper West Side, New York City. After weeks of tension, the turmoil increased last night in a fight between two rival gangs, resulting in the deaths of two young men. That's the news flash in Walt Whitman High School's ambitious production of "West Side Story."
This well-known musical, based on Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet," features two gangs, the American Jets, led by Riff (Reed Wilson), and the Puerto Rican Sharks, led by Bernardo (Eric Weissmann). In 1950s Manhattan, the two gangs strive for control of the same turf.
At a dance, Tony (Matt Glenn), Riff's best friend, and Maria (Nikki Massoud), Bernardo's sister, fall in love. But the gangs' mutual hatred threatens to separate them. In a brawl mirroring the Tybalt-Mercutio-Romeo fight, Bernardo kills Riff, and in anger Tony kills Bernardo, endangering the future he wants with Maria.
Wilson captured the tough leader and sang passionately. Glenn acted best when with Massoud, who has a sweet soprano voice. As Bernardo's girlfriend, Anita, Michaela Lieberman showed a range of talent through her expressive singing and comedic timing. As Baby John, Devon Hopkins stood out with his crisp character work, from a falsetto woman's voice to funny outbursts and awkward dance moves.
Despite microphone problems, the performers stayed cool and didn't stop. The cast lacked some energy in the beginning but improved and showed emotion in the last scene, though most members were silent onlookers.
The slower-paced start allowed Whitman to showcase the band, which mastered a difficult score. The creative set was well thought out. Throughout the show, Doc, who owns the neighborhood drugstore, kept asking, "What does it take to get through to you? When do you stop?" When the two rivals meet and are forced to face the consequences of their rash actions, the answer becomes clear. As powerful as the play it was adapted from, Whitman's "West Side Story" reveals insight into contemporary problems in a mature and enjoyable production.
St. Albans and
National Cathedral School
Dancing gangsters, harmonizing hoodlums and soaring sopranos all had their place in Walt Whitman High School's production of "West Side Story." This loose retelling of Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet" successfully captured the frustration and angst of immigrant youths in America in the 1950s.
"West Side Story," originally staged on Broadway in 1957 with choreography by Jerome Robbins and challenging music by Leonard Bernstein, has been a consistent favorite with audiences and was adapted into a successful film in 1961.
The story chronicles the challenges faced by two young lovers, Tony (Matt Glenn) and Maria (Nikki Massoud), caught between the warring Puerto Rican Sharks and American Jets. In classic melodramatic style, the pair's attempts to be together are thwarted, ultimately resulting in several tragic deaths. The Whitman cast pulled this off with appropriate emotion and somberness.
All the leads had strong voices, with Massoud hitting every note in Bernstein's demanding score. The guys were especially strong, notably Reed Wilson as Riff, his clear tenor adding to a thoughtful, fluid performance, and Glenn as Tony, his intensity and optimism making his immediate connection with Maria quite believable.
Although many of the full-cast numbers lacked energy and synchronization, several smaller ensemble songs were delightful. The well-danced and exquisitely sung "Cool" gave the Jets time to shine, as did the crowd-pleaser "Officer Krupke," in which Justin Bours and Devon Hopkins (as Action and Baby John) elicited abundant laughter.
The technical aspects of the show were strong, particularly the set design, headed by Bridget Woodbury, Melissa Kallas, Sarah Evans and Isabel Morris-Look. The set was very realistic and well laid out, but the way the basketball hoop and ball were used was at times distracting.
The lighting crew often used silhouetting to stunning effect, as in one remarkable scene in which Tony and two dead bodies were left onstage in black with a vivid red background.
Led by skilled singers and a strong orchestra, Whitman gave a memorable performance of this challenging, modern-opera-style musical.
Wootton High School