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'West Side Story' at Madison

Cappies Review

Jets! *snap snap* Sharks! *snap snap* The streets are a battleground for the two toughest gangs on the west side in Arthur Laurents' modern tale of Romeo and Juliet, "West Side Story." With music and lyrics by Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim, this classic American musical was tackled by James Madison High School over the weekend.

At her first dance, Maria, a young Puerto Rican girl, believes her life is going to change. Little does she know how much, because it is there that she meets Tony, a member of a rival gang and the wrong race. In spite of all that, they fall in love. However, their love cannot stop the violence that breaks out between the gangs and ends in death.

Montana Brown, who played Maria, had a beautiful voice and stage presence. Slightly operatic, her songs washed over the audience with stunning volume and clarity. During "I Feel Pretty," her emotions were so well executed it felt like the audience had stumbled into her slumber party. Riff (Will Cromartie), the leader of the Jets, had a good voice too, but his real strength was his dancing. Especially in the fight/dance sequences where the choreography provided ample amounts of spirit and movement.

Kyle Street's characterization of Action, an angry son of a poor shop owner, was complete and never lost focus. From the anguished movements during "Cool" and his great performance in "Gee, Officer Krupke," Street knew exactly what to do and when. In this number, all the Jets had so much energy and comedic actions that it was easy to burst with laughter.

The set, designed by Rob Ross, had many realistic aspects. Brick buildings looked true to life and everything, from the chain link fences, the skyline and the clothes hanging on the line, gave the stage atmosphere. And the pit orchestra kept the audience engaged during the lengthy overture and for the entire duration of the show.

Unfortunately for Tony and Maria, love didn't conquer all. But for the students at Madison High School, their singing and acting talent, along with an impressive set, allowed them to conquer this challenging musical.

Cappies is a high school critics and awards program involving 50 schools in the Virginia, Maryland and D.C. areas.