Though West Side Story was written and is set in the 1950s, its plot and themes can be traced back much further. The musical was conceived by Jerome Robbins and written by Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim, with a book by Arthur Laurents. This was based on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, which itself drew from earlier stories.
West Side Story tells the tale of two New York City teens, Maria (Nikki Massoud) and Tony (Matt Glenn). Maria is Puerto Rican, and her family expects her to marry a young Puerto Rican man, Chino (Elliott Rosenbaum). The Puerto Ricans and the “Americans” are embroiled in gang violence of which both Maria’s relatives and Tony are a part, on opposing sides. Tony and Maria meet at a dance and fall in love immediately, but Maria’s brother, Bernardo (Eric Weissman), leader of the Sharks, notices and orders Maria home. She goes.
Bernardo and Riff (Reed Wilson), the leader of the “American” Jets, plan a ‘rumble.’ Tony reluctantly participates, but ends up stabbing Bernardo in a rage after Bernardo kills Riff. Maria forgives Tony, but Chino wants revenge.
Anita (Michaela Lieberman), Bernardo’s girlfriend and a friend of Maria’s, is furious that Maria still loves Tony, but Maria convinces her to warn Tony that Chino is coming for him.
Anita goes to the drugstore where the Jets hang out, but the young men verbally and physically abuse her. She is saved by Doc (Michael Barrett) but, furious, she tells them that Chino killed Maria.
Tony calls out to Chino, telling him to “come and get me, too.” Alas, he sees Maria alive just before he is shot. She holds him and sings to him as he dies.
In a rage, the young woman takes the gun and threatens to kill all of the Jets, Sharks, and herself. But she breaks down at the last moment and throws it away. Sharks and Jets carry Tony’s body off together.
As is said in Romeo and Juliet, the story ends in “a glooming peace.”
WHITMAN’S PRODUCTION is directed by Christopher Gerken. Whitman chorus teacher Jeff Davidson is the music director, and Chris Allen, a Whitman instrumental music teacher, is conducting the orchestra. Tammy Roberts is the dance choreographer, and Sarah Wiggins is the fight choreographer. This is the first Whitman show for Gerken, Roberts, and Wiggins.
Gerken said, “West Side Story is one of the greatest musicals ever,” noting especially the music, which ranges from haunting love songs to aggressive gang pieces to fast-paced Latin dance numbers. And, as Gerken adds, the “background is still totally relevant to the racial tensions in many big cities throughout the modern world.” The cast is comprised of fifty students drawn from all four grades. Gerken praises them highly, saying, “Students have been asked to make themselves vulnerable to the rawness of the subject matter, push themselves physically in the choreography, and maintain the standard of excellence in the challenging vocal requirements... This year’s cast excels in all areas and has been working daily for the past two months.”
Bridget Woodbury, a senior, is stage manager. “I'm really excited about not only the incredible vocal talent we were again lucky to have, but also the dancing and acting skills that students are really putting to use. I think that everyone, from the chorus members to myself, has grown in one way or another already.” According to Woodbury, the “show is going to be one of the most technically sophisticated productions I have ever participated in.”
Gerken agrees, “You can expect to see skyscrapers that disappear into the air and rotating platforms that seamlessly spin in time to the music and dance.”