West Side Story moves audience, highlights students’ talent


Catherine Opsahl

(From left to right) Theater students Emilia Gustafson, Nadia McGlynn, Paris Whitney and Maddie Thorpe rehearse the song “I Feel Pretty” from the musical “West Side Story,” which the theater program performed March 21-24. (Photo by Catherine Opsahl)


The romantic musical tragedy “West Side Story” is known as one of the most memorable and heart-wrenching musicals of all time, exemplifying elements of Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet.” The theater department’s production of the show wonderfully followed this storyline, leaving the audience laughing in one scene and crying in the next.

The musical is set in mid 1950s New York where the city is run by two street gangs, the Puerto Rican Sharks and the American Jets. Tony (senior Nathaniel Ward), a member of the Jets, falls in love at first sight with Maria (sophomore Emilia Gustafson), sister of the leader of the Sharks. Torn between their families and the gangs, the star-crossed lovers try to exist in the midst of prejudice and brutality.

Ward and Gustafson did a marvelous job at giving their characters a deep connection to real life, causing the audience to empathize with every twist and turn of their tender and intense relationship. The weeks of preparation and hard work devoted to developing their characters and chemistry was clear. Strong character relationships within the show don’t stop there.

The relationship between actors, no matter the magnitude of the part, was subtle, but apparent, adding a layer of complexity to the show. Each actor’s actions and reactions to others added to the authenticity of the situations and made the scenes more believable and sincere. A glance toward any actor or actress in the spotlight or background advanced the intent of the scene, for in every moment, the cast was engaged.

The mobility and resourcefulness of the set added to the show’s overall appearance and experience. What became known during the show as the Sharks building, which consisted of two levels, was efficiently moved by tech members to make scenes look as though they were outdoors, including a window and balcony Marie uses to communicate with Tony. The structure was moved around to show the inside as well: Maria’s bedroom on the second floor, where many scenes take place in the second act and the bottom floor that represents Maria’s friend Anita’s (senior Guianna Inoa-Nunez) shop.

With any additional element, such as a complex set, there is an inevitable lag time to move such items around to represent different areas in the show’s setting. Although, there were elongated periods of blackouts where sets were turned around or switched out, the music and lighting crew successfully distracted the audience during the scene changes.

At times, the amplification of the recorded music made dialogue comprehension difficult, specifically the quieter scenes between Tony and Maria, and Doc and Tony. The in-and-out of the mics may have also affected the ability to hear lines clearly. Some characters overcame the equipment issues by projecting more and cheating out further to the audience, most memorably Guiana Nunez portraying Anita. This stood as testimony to the actors’ ability to make do and improvise to fix difficult situations.

It is clear the director, Advanced Placement United States history teacher Lee Pope, has a strong connection with the show, as he’s played two different lead roles at separate times and helped to put it on at Grady previously.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email