Volume 95, Issue 90

Friday, March 22, 2002
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Story proves the West Side is the best side

The Oscar crystal ball

Beatlemania hits campus

Naked food easy to swallow

Story proves the West Side is the best side

West Side Story

Starring: Andrew Hummel, Claudia Beirao, Eric Morin, Jessica Sherman, Michael Ferro

Directed By: Justin Peter Quesnelle

Four stars (out of five)


Photo by Jeanine Henderson

By Molly Duignan
Gazette Staff

Musical theatre might not be for everyone. But a great soundtrack, a couple of good fight scenes and a tragic love story seem to be popular on the big screen – so why not try the same on the smaller stage?

Due to its universal appeal, Theatre Western's West Side Story could make a theatre lover out of anyone. As a musical, this production thoroughly entertains and as a story, it engages the audience in an intense couple hours of action.

Think Romeo and Juliet – star-crossed by racial differences instead of familial ties, Manhattan instead of Verona, energetic song and dance instead of Shakespearean elitism and you've got West Side Story.

WSS is set against a backdrop of race wars, whereby the "Jets" – pretty-boy all Americans of rough blue collar breeding – are in constant territorial battle with the "Sharks" – a gang of wily, Puerto Rican immigrants.

The gang relations are further complicated when Jet-member Tony (Andrew Hummel) and Maria (Claudia Beirao), the sister of a Shark, fall in love at first sight. The plot parallels that of Romeo and Juliet, but is invigorated by a modern take on street wars and racism.

Director Justin Quesnelle has put together an impressive cast that manages to live up to the play's demanding balance of drama, music and song. WSS showcases a wide array of talent, allowing for plenty of cast participation.

The group dynamic of the Jets and their ensemble songs serve as great comic relief within an otherwise tragic tale. While the Sharks are not given as much of a chance to shine, their girlfriends have serious spark and are fantastic in their musical numbers. Even minor roles such as Simon Goodwin's depiction of Shrank and Doug Kerr as Doc are delightful.

The entire cast is strong, but the beautiful voice and strong performance of Beirao as Maria stands out. Together with the talented Jessica Sherman as the sassy Anita, these two produce chills with their dynamic duets.

OAC student Eric Morin, from Central Secondary School, is amazing as Tony's sidekick Riff. He overwhelms the audience with his dancing and a voice that shocks and pleases. Unfortunately, Morin's talent tends to upstage the likes of Hummel who, despite a fantastic voice, cute charm and convincing chemistry with Maria, has weak dancing ability and lacks the commanding stage presence his character demands.

Choreographer Jeanine Henderson deserves kudos for her work with the play – the chorus scenes and ensemble songs are dazzling.

Henderson maximizes the vast Talbot stage and amazes the audience with the calibre of dance. The clever choreography propels the action of the play forward, but stands in sharp contrast to the rather stagnant solo scenes.

In accordance with the original play, the orchestra, under the musical direction of Imraan Haq, is equally impressive and diverse. The instrumentals complement the wonderful chorus and solos and add suspense to the intense emotional scenes in the second act.

WSS is worth seeing for the pure purpose of checking out what Western thespians have to offer. Beyond its universal appeal and fantastic display of campus talent, WSS is a great introduction for anyone into the world of musical theatre.

West Side Story plays at the Talbot College Theatre nightly at 8 p.m. until Mar. 26. Tickets are $15 for students and $20 for non-students and are available at the USC Front and The Grand Theatre.

To Contact The Arts and Entertainment Department:

Copyright The Gazette 2002