Nakfana Gidey ; in background Anita Montero, Janea Johnson, and Lena Jones (Judy Licht)

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

Emma Paquette, a student at McLean High School , reviews Woodrow Wilson High School’s ‘West Side Story’ as part of The Cappies Critics and Awards Program.

Eyes meet eyes from across a crowded room and an instant connection is forged. For once, even with a backdrop of the racially charged battleground in 1950’s New York, the color of their skin doesn’t matter. Tony and Maria fall in love in a single moment and, from then on, their fate is sealed.  There is no room for the two of them in the midst of gang rivalries and prejudiced hatred. Woodrow Wilson enchantingly portrayed this classic musical in their amazing production of West Side Story.

West Side Story, with music by Leonard Bernstein and lyrics by Stephan Sondheim, first opened on Broadway in 1957, going on to be nominated for six Tony awards including Best Musical. In the show, Shakespeare’s classic Romeo and Juliet is reset in 1950’s New York where two ethnically separated gangs, the Sharks and the Jets are in violent conflict. When Tony, a Jet, and Maria, the sister of the Sharks’ leader, fall in love with each other, it sets in motion an inevitable tragedy.

The huge ensemble of this show should be commended for their boundless energy and limitless enthusiasm. The Jet boys were particularly notable for their natural camaraderie and endless gusto. “Gee, Officer Krupke” was filled with gut-busting hilarity; the gang moved from one verse to the next with sudden spontaneity as led by the uproarious Action (Zac Nachbar-Seckel). Baby John was another stand-out, realistically portrayed by Alex Carrol-Cabenes. He succeeded in establishing believable relationships with his fellow gang mates, particularly the equally talented A-rab (Des O’Brian). The Jets also displayed amazing talent in dance numbers such as “Cool”, where difficult dance moves were performed with perfect timing and deep intensity. However, the “Somewhere” ballet was where the most talented dancers shone. Indio (Marques Ross) shared a solo with Francisca (Anita Montero) that was utterly breathtaking. Their grace and careful execution of the choreography stood out from the rest of the dance troupe.

Supported by this amazing ensemble were the two star-crossed lovers, who carried the story with their sincerity and charm. Maria (Yana Madrid) possessed a heavenly voice, soaring to gorgeous heights with a sweet tone that captured hearts. Her short and tragic relationship with Tony (Ben Topa) was poignantly developed with authentic chemistry. Topa treated his love with delicacy and tenderness, his dopey smile summing up the strength of his character’s feeling without the need for words. The lovesick Jet also developed excellent connections with his gang mates, wrenchingly displaying the difficulty of being torn between his love and his family

Finally, those among the supporting cast finished off the carefully created story. Riff was masterfully embodied with swaggering confidence and undeniable charisma by Jonah Gigli. He brought depth to the cocky gang leader through his care towards his gang and his friendship with Topa, as well as solidly going beyond expectation in terms of dance and vocals. Anita (Nakfana Gidey) also dedicated herself to her character with sassy physicality in both her acting and her dancing.

The deeply saddening finale of West Side Story has remained a desperate call for understanding between those who are different and resonates even today. Behind every color of skin is a human being that is the same as any other human being. Woodrow Wilson’s stunning production served as a reminder of both the powers and the limits of love.