NEW CASTLE —
When musicals are timeless, audiences keep coming.
The tale of “West Side Story” stays modern decade after decade.
And this year, talented young people tackle a show that reaches new depths of emotion while showcasing songs that are American classics and choreography that is quite involved for a high school group.
This is the first time Laurel High School has staged the show, and it’s the only high school in Pennsylvania this year doing what director Charles Gryn refers to as one of the top American musicals, which was inspired by “Romeo and Juliet.”
“That’s a real tribute to these kids,” said Gryn, who has overseen the plays and musicals for 38 years. “It’s a big undertaking and the biggest show we’ve done.”
Set in the mid-1950s in an ethnic, blue-collar neighborhood in the Upper West Side of New York City, the music explores the rivalry between two street gangs and feuding families — the Sharks and the Jets.
That’s a stretch from the countryside that surrounds Laurel, where there are no gangs to be seen. But somehow the leads in the show found a way to identify with their parts.
It was also a 360-degree turnaround from last year’s lighthearted “Guys and Dolls” for senior Jake Blank, who has a lead role in Tony.
As Blank described, “We went from joking to serious in one year.”
Even Gryn, who is assisted by five or six adults, admits to getting teary eyed at some of the acting, especially during the tragic ending.
“This is a dark show and there is a lot of emotion. There’s hatred and anger, and they do a good job.”
Blank said Gryn helps the actors and actresses find the extent of that emotion, particularly for experiences the average 16- and 17-year-old know nothing about.
“We all have to carry different ranges of emotion,” said senior Abigail Shepherd, who plays the 30-ish Anita.