Thespians prepare for West Side Story, a play that brings many challenges for cast

By Eman Albash

After attending the West Side Story tryouts, junior Andrew Mariotti anxiously waited over the weekend for the cast list to be posted. As he walked up to the list in the morning, he was nervous and began to doubt himself. However, after glancing at the list, he was filled with relief and excitement. Mariotti had gotten the role of Riff, one of the main characters in West Side Story.

“I had been thinking about the tryouts the whole weekend,” Mariotti said. “After seeing the competition, I had convinced myself I was not going to be getting any major role. I was very happily surprised.”

West Side Story, a modernized version of Romeo and Juliet, takes place in Manhattan in the 1950s and focuses on the struggle for power between two teenage gangs—the American Jets and the Puerto Rican Sharks. Amid the fighting, Tony, a Jet, and Maria, the sister of a Shark, fall in love, and try to stay together in spite of escalating tension between the two sides.

For Mariotti and the other actors, the auditions and production of West Side Story were different than past musicals. Music teacher and director Eric Kauffman said the musical required students to have skills beyond just acting and singing.

“To cast this show there was more of an emphasis on dance, because this show requires a tremendous amount of dance skill and ability,” Kauffman said. “It [also] required physical characterization, that you could you show your character through your physicality.”

Casting also differed this year in terms of the people who auditioned. Many students who often got leading roles graduated last year, and this particular show grabbed the attention of people who had not auditioned in the past.

Senior Tyler Moody, who will be playing the role of Tony, said he faced challenges with the upcoming show because it is the first musical he has ever been a part of at UAHS.

“I hardly have any experience with acting,” he said. “I would say that is my weakness, but I am working on it and it’s fun.”

On the other hand, Moody has had musical experience both inside and outside of school. He participates in Vocal Ensemble and Men’s Glee at UAHS. In addition, he plays guitar, writes music and sings for a church band.

As opening night approaches, the actors will have to start putting more time into rehearsals each week. Junior Keeley McCormick, who will be playing Maria’s friend Rosalia, said she has participated in Jekyll and Hyde as well as Damn Yankees and is aware of all the work ahead for everyone involved in the production.

“We will be rehearsing nonstop,” McCormick said. “Dress rehearsals are the best preparation for opening night. These happen during the home stretch, which is the most fun because all of the little details come together and the show really comes alive.”

According to Kauffman, although the actors are an integral part of West Side Story, over 30 different committees also work on everything from the set design to spreading the word about the play.

Mariotti said the backstage workers put in a tremendous amount of effort and deserve credit as well.

“I think the thing that sometimes goes unnoticed is all the work that goes into the set that parents and members of the tech crew do,” Mariotti said. “The set this year is going to be incredible, but it will require an extreme amount of work. Everybody involved does such a good job.”

West Side Story is scheduled to run from Feb. 25-28. According to Kauffman, this is the first year UAHS has ever performed West Side Story, and he said he has high hopes for the outcome. However, he said he is concerned that with all the work put into creating the show, not enough people will come to see it.

“The one thing that I do not want [West Side Story] to be is the greatest musical that no one has ever seen,” Kauffman said. “I want us to fill the house.”

Each year, Kauffman and theatrical advisers choose which musical to perform based on resources, variety and opinions. McCormick said she favors Kauffman’s choice to perform West Side Story.

“West Side Story was always my mom’s favorite musical so I grew up watching it,” McCormick said. “To this day I still cry every time I see it. I was so excited when it was announced. It is a great show.”

In spite of the demanding choreography, long rehearsals and the daily challenges of the world of theatre, McCormick said she is glad to be a part of West Side Story.