‘West Side Story’ emphasizes social issues


Lindsay Eckhardt, sophomore in FAA, and David Spearman, junior in LAS, rehearse a scene from “West Side Story” on Thursday. The Assembly Hall will be hosting the musical Friday and Saturday nights.

By Kevin McLoughlin

Forgoing George Chakiris’ brown face paint is not the only change director Lauren Scranton, senior in LAS, made to her production of “West Side Story.”

Adapted from “Romeo and Juliet,” “West Side Story” deals with teenagers Maria and Tony. Their star-crossed romance sparks conflict between their respective gangs, the Puerto Rican Sharks and the white American Jets. It offers a musical glimpse into the streets of 1950s Manhattan.

Scranton said that she wanted to re-emphasize the musical’s themes of racial tension and class struggle.

“The show is very timeless in that the issues that are brought up, even though they might not be the specific issues that we have right now, they are always very similar to what’s going on in our time period,” Scranton said.

She added that she believes the show has “softened” a bit over the years as its infectious musical numbers eclipse its gritty social commentary.

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    To underline this, Scranton said she removed the “dance fighting” that conveyed the gang violence in the original show. While none of the classic songs and dances has been changed, she had her actors attend stage-fighting workshops in order to add a sense of realism to her production.

    “You have a lot of fun watching it and being part of it,” she said. “But I wanted to get people thinking about the reality of the issues.”

    Lindsay Eckhardt, who plays Maria and is a sophomore in FAA, described the musical from her character’s perspective as a poignant coming-of-age story. It follows Maria as she progresses from a rose-tinted view of love and romance to a tragic clash with reality.

    “Even as the character, I’m responding to the situation,” said Eckhardt. “Sometimes I’m laughing, sometimes I’m fighting the tears.”

    Social realism, however, is only part of the musical’s enduring appeal. Both Scranton and Eckhardt said that “A Boy Like That,” vies for their favorite number from the show.

    “(Anita’s) telling me, ‘don’t fall in love, look at mine, it died,’” Eckhardt said. “But I’m saying ‘No, it doesn’t have to be like that.’”

    Aaron Parker, producer for the show and sophomore in LAS, said that “West Side Story” sold out completely when they put it on for Moms Weekend five or six years ago. “West Side Story” is also a sizable production. Scranton said there are about 45 students in the cast, 35 students in the orchestra and 20 students on production staff.

    Parker added that his favorite song was definitely “Tonight.”

    “West Side Story” will be put on at Assembly Hall Friday at 7 p.m. and Saturday at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. As opening night approaches, Scranton said her excitement is building.

    “This show is classical,” she said. “It’s an important part of musical theater history.”