West Side Story is a modern day take on Romeo and Juliet, based in the streets of the upper west side New York. The musical is centered around two groups, the Jets, a white gang, led by Riff (Graice Miller), and the Sharks, a Puerto Rican gang, led by Bernardo (Aaron Lewis). Tony (Jack Martin), former Jets member and Riff’s best friend, falls in love with Maria (Sophie Shumaker), Bernardo’s sister. As said in the Director’s Note by Laura Beck-Ard, “We chose to set the play in contemporary times and weave in the despair and desperation that has come with ongoing issues of immigration and the devastation caused by Hurricane Maria. Without taking any specific political side, we chose to show the ugly side of racial intolerance.” When it was announced that CSD Theaters was doing West Side Story, many people were excited. Sophie Shumaker says, “It’s been one of my favorite musicals and because it’s such a controversial musical, I was really curious to see how the theater would be able to pull off such an amazing show.” It’s had a great community response; on opening night the sold out show finished with a standing ovation.
There’s an incredible orchestra down in the pit, and the technicality, lighting, and backdrop for the show are phenomenal, changing the time of day with the magic of lighting and color. Gabriel Bilotta is the stage manager, in charge of managing set changes, lighting, and any problems that occur during the show. The most challenging part of the musical, Shumaker says, was trying to bring justice to the characters in the show. Since most of the cast doesn’t speak Spanish or have experience with Puerto Rican accents, they had to learn how to act and speak like they were from there. “We never want to do a half job or do something that wouldn’t be sensitive to their culture, so we brought in people with the knowledge about Puerto Rico so we could learn and be aware of the message we’re trying to send.” she says. Forrest Irvine, who plays Big Deal, a Jets remarks, “People should see this because it’s a more modern and socially relevant production than I feel CHS has put on in recent years. We’ve also got a wide array of talent working in every part of this show that has blown me away.”
Similarly, Shumaker says her favorite parts of the show are, “the topics and controversies it brings up. It puts a light on racism, sexism, political division, and people not listening to each other. We’re representing how each side is unable to listen to the other side.” If you haven’t had the chance to see this unique and outstanding production, there’s still time! Go check out csdtheaters.com to purchase tickets (student tickets are $10 pre-paid and $13 at the door) and enjoy the show!
Photos by Mark Hoffman
Maria (Shumaker) and Tony (Martin) share a moment.
The Shark girls.