Passion. Anger. Lust. Love. In these times of change, some things always stay constant. These are the emotions that will always define youth, and the reasons why a production of “West Side Story” can still be as popular and relevant today as it was 50 years ago.
The classic musical follows the star-crossed paths of Tony and Maria, our urban Romeo and Juliet, as they struggle to create their perfect world amid the chaos and hatred of their reality in Hell’s Kitchen, New York. Race plays a huge role in the destruction of their dreams; the crossing of racial boundaries provides an excuse for the Jets and Sharks to fight and hate each other. The cast was energetic and intriguing from the beginning of the play to the end, as each scene and musical number fully engaged the audience in its youthful nature.
There was an intense anticipation throughout the first half of the play. In the musical number “Something’s Coming,” Tony, wonderfully played by second-year graduate drama major David Hudson, sang of an urgent feeling that big things were going to happen, a sense of anxiety that every youth can relate to.
Glad Hand, played by fourth-year drama major, Andrew Delman, provided comic relief as the one-armed dance chaperone who is naïve enough to think that forcing the two gangs to dance together will diffuse the hostility. Another highlight of act one was “One Hand, One Heart,” where Tony and Maria plan their futures, blissfully ignoring the opposing forces around them. Hudson and fourth-year drama major Ashley Moniz, who played Maria, had very believable chemistry on set.
Lighting also played a huge role in this scene, as well as many others throughout the play. The spotlight forced the audience to ignore the reality and focus on the passion that radiated between the pair. In other scenes, such as “Cool” and “The Rumble,” the lighting provided the perfect backdrop for the song.
However, the best scene of the night was the “Tonight” quintet between Tony, Maria, Anita, the Sharks and the Jets, as everyone had such diverse and opposing hopes of how the night would transpire. Grace Gealey, a third-year graduate drama major, stood out in this performance as Anita, Maria’s strong and wise sister. Gealey’s strong stage presence and voice infused the character of Anita with ample strength and sexuality.
In the final scene of act one, “The Rumble,” Bernardo, played by fourth-year drama major Perry Young, and Riff, played by fourth-year drama major Andreas de Rond, splendidly executed their roles as strong alpha males as their violent ends set off a chain reaction of misunderstanding and rage.
After the turbulence of act one, act two started off on a high note, with the upbeat “I Feel Pretty.” Here, Maria was ignorant of the troubling events at the rumble as she continued to dream of her future with Tony. The ballet sequence that followed was very symbolic of the darker elements of the play. All the youth were drawn to the same “somewhere,” a seemingly utopian location where there is no strife, only hopes and dreams. These hopes were brought back to earth with a replaying of the rumble scene. As everyone fled in disorder and panic, the message that the gangs were destroying each other in their individual quests to find meaning in life became evident.
Yet, the play strayed away from the serious with “Gee, Officer Krupke,” where The Jets displayed excellent comedic skills as they parodied the criticisms they received from adults. In addition, Ben Gleichauf shined as Action, but really, each of the Jets had a hand in the overall genius of the scene.
Alas, after approximately two hours, the play drew to a close with the tumultuous “Finale,” in which the restrictions of society were finally able to separate Tony and Maria. Moniz delivered a stellar last performance as Maria placed the blame of Tony’s death on everyone’s hatred for one another.
“West Side Story” was captivating throughout, and those who have already seen it can still enjoy the strong acting and passion that is required to put on this production. Even those who are not “into” musicals can enjoy this timeless story.