UHS Theatre Presents: West Side Story

Staff Writer
The 2018 Spring Musical is Arthur Laurents’ West Side Story. Produced by the UHS Theatre Department, the play opened on Thursday, March 8th and will continue to run through Saturday, March 17th in the Big Theatre.
West Side Story was first created by Arthur Laurents as a book and was shortly after developed into a musical with music by Leonard Bernstein and choreography by Jerome Robbins. The storyline is based on William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, as it explores the rivalry between social class and groups of people with different backgrounds. West Side Story is set in the 1950’s in New York City and develops around the love story of Maria, the sister of the leader of the Sharks, and Tony, a former Jet. The Sharks and Jets are essentially teenage gangs, the Sharks being Puerto Ricans and the Jets being Caucasian, while each gang portrays the dark themes of society, race and violence.
UHS’s West Side Story is told through soaring ballads, rousing uptempos and lively dance sequences despite the seriousness that is contained within the show.
“This show is super different than anything we’ve ever done in the past,” senior Sarika Mande explained. “We tend to go the route of a comedy, like last year’s The Addams Family, but this year we decided to do an iconic show,” Mande continued. “It is a thrill for us and it has forced us to grow as actors because instead of caricature acting we had to delve into our characters.”
Mande plays Maria, the love interest of Tony, played by sophomore Davide Costa. In order to prepare for the leading role she “had to get in the head of someone who had no prejudices and only thought about love.”
“It is a very classic, ingénue, Juliette role because it is based on Shakespeare and that was very new for me because I am really used to doing mostly comedic acting.”
Senior Audrey Mitchell who plays Rosalia, a Shark, agreed with Mande in that, as people are well aware of Shakespeare’s tragedy, the cast was told not to “play the end of the beginning [and to] get a laugh from the audience wherever possible.”
Director Ranae Bettger (Visual and Performing Arts Dept.) explained that she “has not done a serious musical since 2010 and the dramatic tone made it interesting to watch the audience deal with those serious issues.”
“In the second act, we heard [the audience] struggle […] they didn’t know if they were supposed to clap or [if they were supposed to] react to something tragic.”
Staying true to the original production proved to be very important as Mande added that “we took what was important from the iconic moments of the show.”
“From the original with actress Natalie Wood and then with the revival musicals, we tried to stay true to the story while still putting our own interpretation of it through our set and staging.”
The set was “four movable wagons each 16 ft tall,” technical crew member Ariana Casey said.
“We [the technical crew] started with reading the script, analyzing, then understanding the scenes, until we created an idea and talked with our technical director, Brian “Dezy” Des Palms about the set and how to bring our ideas to life,” Casey said.
The process of set creation is not an easy task. Hours of design and physical labor are inputted into the many intricacies of the set which include lights, sounds and the facades the audience sees on stage.
The technical crew is so precise and detailed that they “even have to consider paint color because light reflects it in different ways.”
The production of West Side Story cost $33,000. The money came from donations and tickets sales from the Fall Play, ComedySportz and the Talent Show along with fundraisers like Snap Raise in which people were able to donate to students from the theatre department directly. Bettger assured that the “cost is expected to be made back through ticket sales and donations.”
She continued that “it costs $15,000 just to hire the conductor, choreographer and technical director because they are not staff members at Uni.”
“However, we see it pay itself forward because the kids have so much more individual training and specialized adults that they are working with.”
That specialization proved to be well worth it, as it was clear how hard the cast and crew worked in order to create such an elaborate production.
“I think opening night was the strongest opening night [we’ve had] in the last four years,” Bettger said.
Bettger hopes the cast and crew remain consistent with the show overall, as balancing shows, rehearsals and school is definitely a lot for students to handle.
For the shows to come, Mande “hopes the audience understands the story in one coherent plot and that [the musical] touches their hearts and allows the story to resonate with them.”
I attended the show Friday, March 9th, and was truly amazed at the entire production.
While I may be biased through the knowledge I gained on the entire process through interviewing cast and crew members, I was taken aback by the vocal and performance abilities of every actor and actress, and deeply impressed by the entire set. It was purely evident how much work and effort that went into making West Side Story appear on the UHS stage.
The musical dealt with important issues of belonging and the implications of love all through song and dance which effortlessly made the two hours of the show feel like twenty minutes. I laughed, I smiled, I wanted to cry, but of course, I held myself together. I felt all of the emotions that Bettger and the UHS Theatre Department intended with this musical, and by the muffled sniffles I heard in the audience and the tissues I saw once the show ended, I was obviously not the only one. This show was by far the best production I have seen the UHS Theatre Department put on and I highly suggest attending before the production ends.
Bettger suggests that anyone who is not familiar with West Side Story should attend UHS’ rendition “because it’s an iconic piece of musical theatre literature, and it is a great student performance of [the original production].”
Tickets are available at seatyourself.biz/iusd for General House Seating for $13 for with ASB, $15 without or $20 for Orchestra Seating. Tickets can also be bought and reserved through Mrs. Bettger in the Little Theatre.