Rocks, cans, bricks, chains, bottles, knives, guns! And that was only in the first act of Thomas Jefferson High School’s crazy, cool production of “West Side Story,” highlighting murder, mayhem and true love in the slums of New York City.
The play is based on Shakespeare’s tragedy “Romeo and Juliet,” and was created by the Broadway powerhouse team of Arthur Laurents, Leonard Bernstein, Stephen Sondheim and Jerome Robbins. It tells the story of the Sharks and the Jets, two warring gangs on the Upper West Side, and the story of Maria and Tony, two lovers struggling against prejudice. The play ultimately provides a bittersweet look at love and life in the urban slums, laced with social commentary.
The magic started even before the curtain opened with the first notes of the orchestra. Although consisting of only students, it performed at an almost professional level. The scenes were brought to life by the exuberant musicians who slid through Bernstein’s difficult score with ease.
The lovers, played by Kate Kirschner and Sam Willmott, shared a chemistry that was unforgettable. Both played off of each other well, bringing their characters to new heights with every shared scene. This was especially evident in their touching duets. Kirschner possessed amazing range when soaring through her operatic vocals. Through the combination of Kirschner and Willmott the central love story was made even more poignant.
The talented, triple-threat actors captured the nuances of their characters through the use of consistent vernacular, while singing, dancing and acting through two strenuous acts. Both the Sharks and the Jets managed to play it cool while executing the intricate dance steps with grace.
The small stage was transformed to give a sense of realism to the down-trodden Big Apple. The ingenious set design made good use of the limited space in the theater. From a row of tenements complete with a fire escape, to a gymnasium, the layered set provided every location with a unique atmosphere.
Some technical difficulties with sound were problematic, however the actors remained unfazed. Many managed to project well enough so that they could even be heard without microphones.
The talented troupe of actors along with orchestra and set crew made TJ’s production of “West Side Story” a musically and visually stirring rendition. Ultimately, it was the unity of all of the show’s components which made the tragically hopeful story come to life on the stage.
Cappies is a high school critics and awards program involving 50 schools in the Virginia, Maryland and D.C. areas.