Sparkling dance numbers, controversial social issues, music, tragedy, romance, and humor combine to make Our Lady of Good Counsel High School’s production of West Side Story a fun and thought-provoking theatre experience.
Inspired by William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, Arthur Laurents’ book, Leonard Bernstein’s music, and Stephen Sondheim’s lyrics tell a tale of forbidden love between two teenagers whose families are in conflict. In this case, the “families” are actually rival gangs in 1950’s New York City —the Sharks and the Jets. The Sharks are recent immigrants from Puerto Rico and the Jets are from an ethnic, blue-collar neighborhood. As the Jets’ leader, Riff, says, “Without a gang, you’re an orphan.”
The young lovers are Tony and Maria. Tony is a Polish-American and Riff’s best friend since early childhood, but he has outgrown the Jets and works as a deliveryman at a candy store. He doesn’t know exactly what the future will bring, but he knows that “Something’s Coming,” and he believes it will be something good. Maria is a young Puerto Rican immigrant who works in a bridal shop and dreams of romantic love while discovering her own sexuality. She rebels against her brother, Bernardo, who insists she marry a man of the same ethnic background. The cynical and worldly Anita is Bernardo’s fiancée and Maria’s confidante. Tony and Maria meet at a dance and instantly fall in love. The rival gangs plan a “rumble” to determine control of a small piece of territory, and Tony is drawn back into the fray—with tragic results.
In this production, the three lead roles of Tony, Maria, and Anita are dual cast. In the Sunday, March 23, 2014 matinee performance, Tony was played by Neal Davidson, Maria was played by Hailey Giddings, and Anita was played by Francesca Rowe.
Davidson has a clear and strong voice, a very impressive vocal range and amazing dynamics—from barely a whisper to a powerful fortissimo. Giddings has a beautifully sweet soprano voice and tremendous acting talent. Rowe brings her character to life with first-class singing, dancing, comedy, and stage presence.
Through Kristina Friedgen’s expert direction and choreography, her students perform at a level that is comparable to professional theatre. The dancing of the entire ensemble—boys and girls, Sharks and Jets alike—runs the gamut from stage combat to blues to Mambo to ballet to Latin to slow-motion to acrobatics, all with confidence and ease. For example, they heat up the theatre with the sizzling “America” and then lower the temperature with the ultra-hip, finger-popping “Cool.” When Davidson sang the haunting “Maria” and he and Giddings combined for “Tonight,” we could actually feel the romance. The sheer beauty of their voices and the romance continued as they imagined what their wedding would be like with the beautiful “One Hand; One Heart.”
It’s difficult to select one favorite production number but the hopeful “Somewhere” is definitely a top candidate. A soloist sings and the ensemble performs a ballet which includes the ghosts of slain gang members. Against a backdrop of grim, gritty reality, the young people sincerely believe that,
There’s a place for us, somewhere a place for us.
Peace and quiet and open air wait for us somewhere.
Somewhere, we’ll find a new way of living.
We’ll find a way of forgiving, somewhere.
The Jets’ seemingly effortless comic imitation of “Gee, Officer Krupke” was also a showstopper. The boys sing and dance their way through a litany of social problems—including drugs, prostitution, illness, and unemployment—to try to figure out why they’re juvenile delinquents.
Laurie Bautista and Simonne Vincent’s fabulous lighting design deserves special mention. Background lighting colors, cross-fades, partial blackouts and spotlights are used very effectively throughout the show. For example, in a dream sequence at the dance, all but four couples leave the stage, and then lighting is used to make Tony and Maria seem to be the only couple on the stage. Later, in the balcony scene, Tony and Maria seem to be the only couple in the world. Lighting is used cleverly to indicate the time of day, often when there is no other clue. In the Act One finale, which is a reprise of “Tonight,” Tony, Maria, and Anita sing in three different parts of the same set, and lighting is used to lead the audience to the various locations.
In their moving production of West Side Story, the talented young performers of Our Lady of Good Counsel High School provide an honest and unsentimental look at social issues like immigration, ethnic stereotyping, youth violence, and the need for belonging, that are just as relevant today as they were in the 1950s. Moreover, they do it without being preachy and with a sense of hope for the future.
Running Time: 2 hours and 30 minutes, with one 15-minute intermission.
West Side Story plays Wednesday, March 26th at 7:30 PM; Friday, March 28th at 7:30 PM, and Saturday, March 29, 2014 at 2:00 PM and 7:30 PM – at Our Lady of Good Counsel High School performing at the Sandy Spring Friends School Performing Arts Center-16923 Norwood Road, in Sandy Spring, MD. Tickets can be purchased at the door or online.
Review of Our Lady of Good Counsel High School’s Les Misérables on DCMetroTheaterArts.