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

Marielle Burt, a student at McLean High School , reviews ‘West Side Story’ performed by Heritage High School as a part of the Cappies Critics and Awards Program.

Two lovers. Two gangs. One gun shot. Can the passion of the classic star-crossed lovers withstand the gang rumbles in the graffiti covered streets of New York City? This epic conflict unfolds in Heritage High School’s enthralling production of West Side Story.

A modern take on Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet”, West Side Story is a favorite American musical, with book by Arthur Laurents, music by Leonard Bernstein, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and original choreography by Jerome Robbins. The classic tale of ill-fated lovers is told in the context of the 1950s gang violence and racial tension that plagued New York City. Replacing the Montagues and the Capulets are two equally ruthless and belligerent street gangs: the Sharks, a collection of Puerto Rican immigrants, and the Jets, a group of Polish-American, working class hoodlums. The protagonist, Tony, a member of the Jets, and Maria, the sister of Bernardo, the leader of the Sharks, fall in love, challenging the stringent social divisions that define life on the West Side streets of New York. Through the lovers’ tragic struggle, West Side Story tackles dark issues of the urban world while paying homage to the romance of Shakespeare.

As the star-crossed lovers, the genuine passion between Maria Regina (Maria) and Devin Clawson (Tony) created a captivating juxtaposition between their own love and the hatred surrounding them. Their natural chemistry in scenes such as “One Hand, One Heart” made these two a magnetic pair. In a cast lacking in consistent singers, Regina’s pure, soprano voice shone in her solo scenes. As Clawson thrashed around the stage it a fit of rage and frustration after learning of his lover’s death, his emotional crescendo sent chills down the spine.

Every performer in Heritage High School’s supporting cast contributed to the fiery atmosphere of the show. From riveting fight scenes to a salsa dance off, the cast’s enthusiasm was unwavering. Giselle Tirado and Bella Tenaglia’s choreography electrified the already ample energy, though some dance sequences could have been more synchronized. Several supporting actors showed tremendous dedication to their characterization. Becky Schneider, as Maria’s sister in-law Anita, put stupendously sassy spin on her role. She also displayed admirable vocal conviction -- especially in the number “America,” in which she struts around the stage gleefully singing about the perks of living in America. Liam Kittson, as Action, the “class clown” of The Jets gang, sent eruptions of laughter through the audience with his vibrantly animated expressions and deadpan comic delivery. As Kittson and the rest of the Jets rebounded around the stage making fun of a police officer in “Officer Krupke,” their brotherly dynamic illustrated a softer side of the ruthless gang. 

Despite some minor glitches, the technical elements of the production were a success. The lighting was often mesmerizing. In the dream sequence “Somewhere,” shadowy lights silhouetted a group of ballet dancers, whose effortless movements created an appropriate dreamlike quality. The set, complete with a wall of graffiti and exposed brick, wondrously transported audiences to the dark, dangerous streets of New York City. The scene changes were expertly executed, and allowed the production to continue seamlessly.

Whether it’s the Elizabethan Era or the 21st century, passion, violence and danger are sure to draw a crowd. Heritage High School does this and more in their rapturous production of West Story.