West Side Story

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Dancing into the spotlight

The spring musical, “West Side Story”, made its debut the week of April 12. The dance-heavy musical boosted audience engagement and comradery within the cast.

The+%22West+Side+Story%22+school+musical+took+place+the+weekend+of+April+12th.+The+musical+displayed+the+variety+of+talent+that+Theatre+West+possesses.++
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The "West Side Story" school musical took place the weekend of April 12th. The musical displayed the variety of talent that Theatre West possesses.

Carmela Cohen Suarez

Carmela Cohen Suarez

The "West Side Story" school musical took place the weekend of April 12th. The musical displayed the variety of talent that Theatre West possesses.

A hush falls across the theater as the lights dim. The audience awaits the commencement of the school musical,“West Side Story.” Last year, Theatre West put on a performance of “Les Miserables,” a famously song-driven musical. This spring they took on a new challenge with “West Side Story,” a more dance focused musical.

Carmela Cohen Suarez
Marijke Nielsen ’19 plays the Jet Anybodys in the musical and has enjoyed her time on cast. “I haven’t had a lead part until this year so I think this year I’ve had more time in rehearsals than I have in the past and I’ve seen how awesome it is to work with so many more people. I’ve met so many new friends so I think this is just my favorite Theatre West production so far,” said Nielsen.

Along with the added difficulty of choreography, there are quite a few new faces in Theatre West’s production of “West Side Story,” including Leah Rietz ‘20, Marijke Nielsen ‘19 and Robert Hooks ‘20, all of whom have varying levels of experience with dancing and theater.

The variety of talents found in Theatre West musicals over the years has greatly increased recently.  Many performers enjoyed the newfound spotlight on dancing, and others discovered a new talent through their experience in the musical.

“’Mary Poppins’ was a good balance of [singing and dancing] but ‘Les Mis‘ was obviously a lot of singing and this year’s a lot of dancing, but I like how they change it up every year. I didn’t think I could dance as much in a musical theater show but I guess I can,” said Nielsen.

This year’s “West Side Story,” provides a contrast to previous musicals because of the spotlight on dancing. The incorporation of dance into the musical brought on a new tier of difficulty for some actors, but also proved as a way to help bring the cast together, showcase different people’s talents and boost engagement in the audience.

Carmela Cohen Suarez
Leah Rietz ’20 played the Jet Pauline. Despite nerves for the audition, she enjoyed being a part of Theatre West. “I’m honestly so happy that I auditioned for “West Side Story” because theater West is a little family that I am so happy to be a part of,” said Rietz.

Nielsen believes that as a result of more upbeat music, the audience would be more interested in the musical. “I think audience involvement is a lot easier with this show just because there’s so much more that you can actually dance to.” The increased amount of dancing also served as a platform for a different talent to shine.

“[‘Les Miserables’ was] super singing heavy so [the audience] got to see all of our vocal talent and this year was ‘West Side Story’ so they got to see all of our [dancing] talent. So I think it’d be really cool to be an audience member and watch both of those,” said Rietz.

While “West Side Story,” served as a way to showcase dancing talents for some, others found the new choreography a bit difficult. Because of the varying levels of dance experience, the cast had to work together to learn new moves no matter the talent level of individual performers.

Because of her previous dance experience, Rietz was able to give some pointers to fellow cast members. “Since I’ve danced for six years it was really easy for me to pick up the choreography, which was hard for most people, so I got to help other people out.”

Carmela Cohen Suarez
Robert Hooks’ 20 plays the Shark, Anxious in “West Side Story”. This musical has been his first Theatre West production and he is looking forward to future plays. “I can’t wait until my next Theatre West [performance], but I have a lot of learning to do until then,” said Hooks.

Other cast members found it a bit trickier to pick up the dance moves, but benefited from help from cast-mates.

“One thing that definitely made the musical easier would be the people, everyone was very helpful…  If I couldn’t do one of the dance moves, someone would always help me out or tell me a little trick to make things easier,” said Hooks.

“We spent a lot of time on choreography,” said Nielsen. “Like more time than actually staging for the spoken scenes and I think we have really good choreographers and they did a really wonderful job, they actually took some of the moves from the movie and it’s really fun.”

It is hard to tell what future Theatre West productions will entail and what new talent these productions will spotlight. Because the main focus of each play changes consistently per year, it is safe to say that future productions will bring about their own new elements to West High and with those elements, new challenges for the cast to tackle.

It is hard to tell what future Theatre West productions will entail and what new talent these productions will spotlight. Because the main focus of each play changes consistently per year, it is safe to say that future productions will bring about their own new elements to West High and with those elements, new challenges for the cast to tackle.

As “West Side Story,” newspaper staff members discovered while filming  the video below, learning the choreography took a lot time and commitment.  

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About the Contributor
Carmela Cohen Suarez, Reporter
Carmela Cohen Suarez is a junior and this is her second year on staff. She is a reporter for the online publication and is looking forward to a year filled with reading, writing, swimming, friends, family, and traveling.
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