By Josh Kirk
Arundel High School is known for having a theater company bursting with awe-inspiring talent and truly unforgettable productions. Their recent spring musical production of West Side Story is certainly no exception. The legendary musical romantic tragedy, featuring music by Leonard Bernstein, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, and choreography by Jerome Robbins, is easily one of the greatest musicals ever made. Staying true to the original Broadway version was Arundel’s main goal for this production. Luckily, they have a top-notch production crew to help out the student cast and tech. That crew features director David Jennings, choreographer Jamie Eacker Jennings, producer Eleanor Minor, vocal director Andrea Brumbach, and orchestra director Ian Burns.
The show started out with the famous prologue, featuring a dramatic battle between the Jets and the Sharks and the entrance of Anybodys (Elizabeth Moore). The choreography was very well done and you could already feel the intensity among the characters, despite no dialogue. Junior Jack Smith didn’t disappoint with his portrayal of the leader of the Jets, Riff. Some of my other favorite Jet boys included the tough and usually angry Action (Thomas Greenslit), the dramatic yet hilarious SnowBoy (Drake Mayer), A-Rab (Ethan Limansky), and Baby John (new freshman Chris Lee). Memorable Jet girl roles include Velma (Shea Gardner), Wanda (Catherine Campbell), and Graziella (Amanda Troncale). These were the actors that I feel had the most important Jet acting roles in the show. However, not only was their acting excellent, but their singing in songs such as the Riff-led “Cool” and “Gee, Officer Krupke” was no less entertaining, powerful, or hilarious. Officer Krupke, by the way, was portrayed by Michael Keir, the father of Madelyn Keir, who portrays Brenda, one of the Jet girls.
As for the Sharks, junior Ethan Albo made an outstanding Arundel Theater debut as their leader, Bernardo. The rivalry between Bernardo and Riff was very fun to watch. Senior Jeremy Limansky also impressed with his portrayal of Chino. Some of the best Shark boys included Pepe (Carson Butts), Indio (Jash Shah), and Luis (Brandon Tsang), while some favorite Shark girls for me include Rosalia (Corrine Litsey), who shines through vocally on the song, “America”, Consuela (Maddie Jurek), and Fransisca (Emma Field).
After the “Jet Song” is when we first meet the show’s protagonist, Tony (Sam Acey). Acey came through with an unforgettable portrayal of this crucial West Side Story character. He mastered all the highest notes of songs like “Maria” and brought some believable emotion to his character, too. Meanwhile, Cassie Williams lived up to expectations with her performance as Tony’s significant other, Maria. During her singing leads in the show, she delivered a lot of great energy and a near perfect Hispanic accent. This is a classic Romeo-and-Juliet type story line about two people from opposing clans who still fall in love with each other. When they both sing together in the song “Somewhere,” it’s hard not to feel the tears roll down on your face. Another well-portrayed lead is Anita, the leading Shark girl, played by Devin Weatherspoon. While Anita loves Maria as her sister, she also resents her for falling in love with Tony, especially after Tony accidentally kills her boyfriend and Maria’s brother, Bernardo, in the rumble scene. This is comparable to Romeo’s family and Juliet’s family hating each other in Shakespeare’s legendary play, Romeo and Juliet. Her anger is displayed beautifully in the second-to-last song in Act II, “A Boy Like That” and “I Have A Love.” In this number, Maria sings about the pros of Tony, while Anita only focuses on the unignorable cons of him.
The pit orchestra also did an exceptional job bringing the musical to life. Some of the talented string players in the pit included Caleb Chang, Leah Ogden, Sarah Skordas, Rachel Hagee, and Jarod Britt. Woodwinds were played by Allie Lawrence, Namiko Randall, Emily Dickman, and Lisa Hatzfeld, while horns were provided by Jacob Wright, Katie Valentine, Matt Smith, Alex Turse, and a few others. Elaine Beckman and Erin Shank are the pit pianists, Jonathan Zutt plays drums, and Griffin Van Doren plays assorted percussion. These talented musicians’ work in this production only added to the drama and tension of the show, especially in scenes like Tony’s death at the end of the show. Listening to the string players over some of the best scenes was definitely enough to make me feel strong emotion, as was the acting of the cast.
One thing that sets West Side Story apart from previous Arundel musical productions are the speaking-only roles. These roles consist of Doc (Dr. Glenn Brumbach), Glad Hand (Greg Lowe), and Detective Schrank (Richard Greenslit), and sure enough, the grown-up actors did as much of an amazing job bringing a lot of personality to their characters, as did the student actors. My favorite non-singing character in the show was Doc (the clerk at the drug store), as he was the most worrisome and hilarious. Dr. Glenn Brumbach unashamedly brought his usually urgent, firm personality to his role.
There’s no denying that West Side Story lived up to its high expectations. It was funny, it was intense, it was heartbreaking, and it was very true to the original Broadway version, exactly how this musical should be produced. It was also Arundel High Theater at their most ambitious since 2017’s epic production of Les Miserables. Sometimes, taking a risk with your spring musical is what will really pay off with great results in the end. We will surely miss all the theater seniors this year, but they definitely ended their time at AHS on a really high note.