Historical “West Side Story” puts on strong performance

Emily DeShazer | The Collegian

A sold-out crowd roared with applause Thursday night in McCain Auditorium after the emotional musical production “West Side Story” came to a close. The dance moves and vocals of the touring cast put on a performance that many felt lived up to its reputation as one of the most highly-renowned shows in the world.

“I thought it was really good,” Rebecca Hickey, senior in marketing, said. “It was really entertaining.”

West Side Story is one of the most famous musicals to ever hit theatre. The show puts a 1950s New York twist on the still-popular Shakespeare play “Romeo and Juliet.”

“This is what I would call a chestnut; it’s a show that everybody knows,” Todd Holmberg, executive director of McCain Auditorium, said. “People have seen it multiple times but the story never gets old. It’s always fresh.”

The show started off by exposing the audience to the rivalry between the Jets and the Sharks, opposing street gangs. The Sharks are a gang made up of Puerto Rican immigrants. The Jets are the boys of New York.

The feud between the Americans and the Puerto Ricans is present throughout the entirety of the show but is amplified when Maria, the sister of the Sharks’ leader Bernardo, falls in love with Tony, a member of the Jets. The two try to keep their love a secret, but a nasty brawl makes that impossible.

The first act ends with Tony trying to break up a fight between Bernardo, a member of the Sharks, and Riff, a member of the Jets. Tony promises Maria that he’ll break up the fight, but ends up joining the action once he arrives under the bridge where the brawl is taking place. Bernardo and Riff begin to fight with knives, and while Tony tries to break up the fight, Bernardo stabs Riff. In a flash of rage, Tony picks up Riff’s knife and stabs Bernardo, leaving both him and Riff dead.

Maria’s love for Tony prevents her from being mad at him, despite the fact that he murdered her brother. They still discuss getting married. The resolution of West Side Story has kept fans holding back tears for decades. Tony is shot by Chino, Bernardo’s friend, and Maria can do nothing but hold Tony in her arms while her lover dies at the story’s end.

Tony’s death is an example of a major difference between “West Side Story” and “Romeo and Juliet.” While the character of Maria is supposed to symbolize Juliet, she does not die at the end of the story like Juliet does in Shakespeare’s epic play.

Fans of all ages and demographics came out to fill McCain Auditorium on the rainy evening, some seeing the show for the very first time.

“I had never seen West Side Story,” said Vincent Paolillo, whose family just moved him from New Jersey, “but I was looking forward to it.”

McCain Auditorium will host the ballet version of “Romeo and Juliet” later this month.