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The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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Farewell from the graduating Battalion staff of 2024
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The BattalionMay 4, 2024

West Side Story’ finds realism in production

 
 

Violence, drama and grit transform a classic musical for the 21st-century audience.
Set in a 1950s Upper West Side neighborhood in New York City, the characters of “West Side Story” find their home in flux. The Polish Jets feel threatened by the growing presence of the newly-immigrated Puerto Rican Sharks. Tensions rise when Tony, a former leader of the Jets, and Maria, younger sister of the Sharks’ leader, find themselves tied together by romance.
Amy Guerin, assistant professor in Theatre Arts, said the musical has maintained its popularity because of the creative minds behind the stage show.
“It is a part of musical theater still today because of lyrics of Stephen Sondheim, the music of Leonard Bernstein and the choreography work of Jerome Robbins,” Guerin said. “All of these things came together to create a musical that, at the time,
pushed boundaries.”
Cast member Jarrod Biron Green, who plays Tony, said this tour attempts to push the boundaries even further with a more sinister approach to the beloved musical.
“The story is the same, but some of the book has been tweaked from the original production,” Green said. “Since there is a Puerto Rican gang, they put more Spanish into the show. Ten percent of the lyrics are Spanish now. It makes it more realistic. Some of the old school musical theater comedy has been changed to make a darker reality. It’s a lot more violent and gritty.”
Adding a layer of violence, this new take has stripped away the rose-colored glasses of the old-style comedy, Guerin said.
“In the 1950s there were a lot of euphemisms that glossed over how tough a life these kids had,” Guerin said. “The way that the Jets treat Anita when she comes to give them information is hurtful but not life-threatening. In this version the Jets assault her.”
“West Side Story” mirrors the tale of Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet.” Although the audience can follow these parallel characters, “West Side Story” allows for a sense of closure not afforded to the original story, Guerin said.
“Because the story is moved forward to the 1950s, it’s not people in tights,” Guerin said. “It’s the same story, but there are enough changes to the plot that we get to see the aftermath. In the original, their bodies are discovered and it ends. But in ‘West Side Story’ we get to see the community’s reaction – how they are going to heal themselves.”
Katie Guilbault, junior psychology major, said the updated aspects of the show make her more interested in the performance.
“When a play like ‘West Side Story’ is adapted in a way to make it have a more realistic plot line, I think it only enhances the performance – considering the very real subject matter of the play,” Guilbault said.
Guerin said the audience should walk away from the musical with the message to see past shallow differences.
“Our differences are only surface differences,” Guerin said. “How we look, what we speak, our socioeconomic circumstances – they’re just surface. Underneath, we are all longing for love, safety and security. We all want those things. We are not that different.”
Green said he hopes the violent world of “West Side Story” will make an impression on the audience and leave them inspired to make a change.
“Hopefully by the end of the show the audience will want to do their part, give back to the world and love so that the world of ‘West Side Story’ doesn’t become a reality,” Green said.
MSC OPAS will host the show at 7:30 pm on Tuesday and Wednesday in Rudder Theatre. Due to strong language, violence and sensitive subject matter, a parental advisory has been suggested for those with children under 13.

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