Leonard Bernstein's classic musical West Side Story has broken barriers since it opened on Broadway in 1957. It transplants Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet into the violent slums of 1950s New York City, where Maria and Tony struggle to overcome society's rejection of their love. River Hill High School's recent production of West Side Story was both chilling and heartbreaking as it illuminated the evils of intolerance that continue to trouble society.
Hatred and urban warfare is the backdrop for Maria and Tony's forbidden love. From the opening number, the animosity between the Jets and the Sharks is made evident in elaborate fights and caustic exchanges between the two gangs. The brutality continues until the deadly rumble, when the ensuing tragedy endangers Maria and Tony's love.
West Side Story demands a cast of triple threats: actors who can sing, dance and act. River Hill delivered. The outstanding ensemble brought the show to life and mastered the complicated score and creative choreography.
Especially noteworthy were the Jets, whose energy and comic timing made scenes including "Gee, Officer Krupke" and "Cool" high points of the show. Andrew Boetcher gave a solid performance as Riff, the leader of the gang. Alex Fast, as the insidious Action, and Robbie Metzbower, as the hilarious Baby John, also gave remarkable performances.
As Tony and Maria, Zach Kashkett and Gloria Makino showed their vocal ranges, soaring to operatic high notes. Their heart-wrenching scenes after the rumble and at the end, in the final moments of Tony's life, solidified the characters' unending love.
The student orchestra succeeded in mastering Bernstein's difficult score. The members' precision and musicality conveyed the moods and feelings of the varied soundtrack.
Well-executed choreography was dazzling to watch, and solo dancers Alison Hundertmark, Allison Moody and Erin Good added flair and sophistication to the movement on stage.
The microphones cut out at inopportune moments, including during Maria and Tony's loving duet "Tonight," but the actors continued unfazed.
River Hill produced a show that enraptured the senses and conveyed a powerful message of love's transcending quality and the ills of intolerance and hate. West Side Story inspires hope that, somewhere and someday, acceptance and love will have an assured place.
Chantal Hall, a senior at Long Reach High School, reviewed "West Side Story" for the Cappies of Baltimore, a program in which students review high school productions under the direction of their teachers and vote on awards for outstanding performances.