Award-winning, student-run, weekly campus newspaper of the University of Illinois, Springfield

The Observer

Award-winning, student-run, weekly campus newspaper of the University of Illinois, Springfield

The Observer

Award-winning, student-run, weekly campus newspaper of the University of Illinois, Springfield

The Observer


West Side Story dazzles audiences

West Side Story is a musical about of two lovers, Maria and Tony, growing up in the 50s and 60s in the Upper West Side of New York City. The show is their story, the story of coming to America, and the story of how love overcomes hate.

West Side Story dazzled UIS students and community members Nov. 21 when it came to Sangamon Auditorium. The book, “West Side Story,” was written by Arthur Laurents, the music in the show is by Leonard Bernstein, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and choreography from Jerome Robbins. The show, which is based on William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet,

Maria (played by MaryJoanna Grisso), a young, beautiful Puerto Rican girl falls in love with Tony (played by Addison Reid Coe), a Polish-American boy who works at Doc’s. The story follows the two as they must overcome ethnic tension between the Jets, the Polish-American gang and the Sharks, the Puerto Rican gang. Together in a forbidden relationship, Maria and Tony show the two gangs the way to peace with their ubiquitous love.

For the audience, one major piece of the show was the costumes. The audience was exposed to different pieces of clothing, and the different personalities that don them. From the orange bandanas used to identify the Jets to Anita’s ravishing purple dance dress, the show is full of intricate costumes that have audiences wondering what will come next. It is appropriate too, for Maria and the purposes of the show that her friends and family work at the bridal shop in town. It is there her and Tony share a scene where Anita (played by Michelle Alves) finds out the two of them are involved – and tries to dissuade Maria from seeing him again.

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Another key part of the show, that is central to the story of Maria and Tony, are the racial tensions in the Upper West Side. West Side Story is set in a time where the United States experiences an influx of immigrants from Europe, especially Eastern Europe, and Latin America. It was during this time the U.S. was the epicenter for the American Dream – the promise of a better future for the immigrant families.

Throughout the show, the audience was exposed to the crass and harsh nature of the strained relationship between the Jets and Sharks. There is a very real dynamic of prejudice the audience is left with in the way the Jets and Shark despise each other – simply because one does not like the other. This comes to a high point in Act II, where Bernardo (played by Andrés Acosta) and Riff (played by Theo Lencicki) fight and Tony, attempting to stop them, kills Bernardo.

The sting from betraying his love, Maria, by killing her brother proves to be difficult, but Maria forgives him – in effect, she has turned her back on family. Anita reminds Maria about the importance of family when she comes to visit her after Maria and Tony spend a night together. It is in this place of the show we see Anita having a change of heart, for she herself has lost a love and understands how difficult Maria’s predicament is.

Anita even goes so far as to look for Tony at Doc’s, where she comes to inform Tony about Chino (played by Juan Torres-Falcon) shooting Maria for her affair with him. And though she is met with the Jets’ disrespectful demeanor toward the “PRs” (Puerto Ricans), by the end of the show, Anita, along with the rest of the cast, is shamed by how death is the result of bitter rivalries that were created through ignorance.

West Side Story managed to capture both couples and families, despite it being the day before Thanksgiving. Audience members like Meg Wertin brought her daughters Logan, Tatum and Mcall from Litchfield to see the musical. None of the sisters had watched the movie, so this was their first time seeing the show in any form.

“I like how it shows how hard it was for the Puerto Ricans to get used to things,” said Logan. “They had to get used to the American gangs and fighting and all that.”

The girls also connected with the characters in the show. “My favorite character was Anita,” Tatum said. “She’s like feisty and seems like a cool character.”

Their mom, Meg, was also new to the Broadway musical and said she also enjoyed herself. “I remember the movie when I was younger,” she said. “I really liked the music in the show.”

Pawnee residents Tom and Colleen Scott also attended the show. Their interest in West Side Story stemmed from their own interest in musical and theater background in school.

“We did a comparative study in high school between West Side Story and Romeo and Juliet and as a field trip, our class went to see Romeo and Juliet,” said C. Scott. C. Scott said she found the two shows had many similarities.

“The story line and the music are great,” said T. Scott. “We sang some of those same songs in school chorus also, like ‘One Hand, One Heart’,” C. Scott said.

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