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‘West Side Story’ comes to East Side at Sayles Hall

Complex musical score, stripped down set brought classic musical to life during ‘West Side Story’

Musical collective Musical Forum brought critically-acclaimed Broadway hit “West Side Story” to Sayles Hall last weekend.

“West Side Story” is a modern-day take on “Romeo and Juliet” that takes place in New York’s Upper West Side. The musical centers around the star-crossed romance between Tony, played by Conor O’Byrne ’18, and Maria, played by Abby Espiritu ’19, characters from opposing gangs.  The Sharks are comprised of Puerto Rican immigrants and the Jets of white Americans.

The production was intended to be performed as a concert musical. “Essentially, the bare bones of a concert musical are that the songs are performed with minimal dialogue — to convey the plot, to convey emotions —without using a set,” said director Nicole Comella ’19.

Musical director Julian Gau ’19 shared Comella’s goal of musical storytelling. “All these distinctive moods … are within ‘West Side Story.’ I hope we can bring all these ideas and (keep) all these emotions intact.”

Chosen for its complex musical score, “West Side Story” gave a lot of material for the musicians to work with. “There’s a lot in the music. There are things that are really beautiful, there are things that are really groovy,” Gau said.

The minimal use of set design and choreography allowed for a focus on the production’s musical elements. Even so, the production team maintained that clear storytelling was necessary to tie the musical elements together. Performances from actors, particularly leads O’Byrne and Espiritu, evoked strong emotion, with impressive vocals and passionate portrayals of character.

“I was really happy with the way it turned out,” said stage manager Briana Nuñez ’19.

As with any musical, the actors’ performances worked in tandem with the music from the pit. Rehearsals for the show have run since early September, according to Nuñez.

Though the story ends tragically, it conveys a message of love despite difference and warns of the dangers of polarizing issues alienating groups of people. “There is a core human connection of love and community that exists between all of us. It’s something that is hard to forget,” Comella said.

In her director’s note, Comella references the intricacies of putting on a performance of “West Side Story” in this day and age. She cited “racism, police brutality, and a strained US-Puerto Rico relationship” as some of the challenges the musical balances. The star-crossed tale is “cautionary,” she wrote, and challenges audiences to think about the complexities addressed in the musical.

Because the show details the experience of Puerto-Rican immigrants, the production team behind “West Side Story” collected donations, all of which went toward United for Puerto Rico, an initiative brought forth by Beatriz Rossell, First Lady of Puerto Rico, to assist with the recent devastation caused by Hurricane Maria.

Musical Forum’s rendition of “West Side Story” garnered a huge amount of attention. Pre-reserved tickets were snapped up within minutes of their release, and the funds collected for United for Puerto Rico amounted to $1,066.74. “I’m really excited that so many people want to see us,” Gau said, continuing that “we’re hoping that, since so many people are coming, we can use this to help in some way.”


Correction: A previous version of this article misspelled the first names of Conor O’Byrne ’18 and Briana Nuñez ’19. It also misstated the class year of Julian Gau ’19. The Herald regrets the error.

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