New Castle News
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.
Most know West Side Story as the love story between Maria, played by senior Carley Pickel, and Tony.
Junior Matty Conway is Riff, the leader of the white, blue-collar Jets and has a part that calls for a lot of attitude.
Dakota Parsons, a sophomore, is Bernardo, the leader of the Puerto-Rican Sharks.
The music is familiar to just about everyone.
“Maria,” “America,” “Somewhere,” “Jet Song”, “I Feel Pretty” and “Cool” are the types of songs one hums over and over again after seeing the show.
Some of the lead characters select “Gee, Officer Krupke” as their favorite song.
Conway said it’s the point in the show where there is a lighthearted moment.
“It provides some comic relief.”
It’s one of Blank’s top choices, too, but he is drawn to slower songs such as “One Hand, One Heart,” in which he teams up with Pickel and the reprise of “Tonight.”
“From a visual standpoint, there is so much going on,” Blank said.
Near the beginning, though, he performs “Something’s Coming,” which he says is enthusiastic and gets the crowd going.
“There’s an excitement about the unknown in the song. You get to grab the audience from the beginning.”
That song appeals to Pickel, and Shepherd likes performing, “A Boy Like That,” because she said it requires the most emotion.
“It’s very angry and accusatory,” Shepherd pointed out. “It’s a challenge to sing that song.”
A TREMENDOUS UNDERTAKING
This is not a small cast. More than 50 students are in the show and another 65 are involved in set construction, costumes, make-up, lighting, sound and stage crew.
There are a lot of sets in the two-act musical, including Doc’s Drug Store, a bridal shop and the streets and alleyways.
“We couldn’t do this without a great art department,” Blank pointed out, adding that Lori Hite, home economics teacher, oversees the costuming and is assisted by a lot of parents.
Conway’s favorite scene is the final one.
“It’s a shock to see the end,” he said.
For Blank, it is the rumble scene — the last one of the first act — that he referred to as most powerful.
The scene that covers a wide range of emotions is the assault scene at Doc’s, which is Shepherd’s favorite.
“This whole show is so intense,” Pickel observed. “And without Mr. Gryn’s guidance, none of this would be possible. He’s so supportive.”
Parsons said he loves the musical in general and by examining it closer, he could form his character.
As for high school performances, Gryn ranks West Side Story third behind “Les Miserables” and “Phantom of the Opera.”
“It still holds up well.”
The original 1957 Broadway production ran for 732 performances before going on tour.
Three and half months of up to four hours of rehearsing every night all comes down to three performances, but the end is rewarding to all. That’s dedication, commitment and teamwork.
For this group, “the best part is we all have a great chemistry together on the stage,” Conway said. “We connect with one another.”
It’s bittersweet for the seniors to be performing together for the final time.
All agree they couldn’t have asked for a better musical.
“This was cast perfectly,” Pickel said. “This is a beautiful show with a great message that no matter what group you belong to, you can come together as one.”
If You’re Going ...
•Laurel High School will present “West Side Story” at 7 p.m. March 20, 21 and 22 in the Laurel High School Auditorium.
•There will be a dinner and a show on Friday and Saturday nights.
•Tickets are $7 for the show and can be purchased in the high school prior to the show and should be available at the door.
‘West Side Story’ Cast List
Riff: Matty Conway
Tony: Jacob Blank
Action: Evan Downing
A-Rab: David Wadding
Baby John: Noah Mariani
Snowboy: Jeff Morelli
Big Deal: Evan Armagost
Diesel: Matt Bessell
Gee-Tar: Ruth Zeigler
Mouthpiece: Amber Emery
Tiger: Kayla Emery
Graziella: Abby Murphy
Velma: Paige Covellli
Minnie: Chloe Brown
Clarice: Mariah Wickline
Pauline: Casey Caughey
Zelda: Kaylii Salzano
Kelsey: Hannah Telesz
Karyn: Abby Wright
Emmy: Jessica Husske
Abby: Rebecca Shepherd
Anybodys: Makenzie Wimer
Bernardo: Dakota Parsons
Chino: Jarod Smith
Pepe: Austin Ayres
Indio: Sean Harlan
Luis: Katie Penwell
Anxious: Shelby Kildoo
Nibbles: Jake Cahall
Juano: Brayden Ayers
Toro: Jesse Frazier
Moose: Aaron Wilson
Tiny: Alec Covelli
Maria: Carley Pickle
Anita: Abby Shepherd
Rosalia: Jamie Ringler
Consuelo: Kayleigh Mariani
Teresita: Ciara Kleckner
Francisca: Mikaylah Jewell
Estella: Caitlyn Wimer
Margarita: Zoe Kerr
Elaina: Brittany Book
Susan: Katie McClelland
Della: Natalie Skerbetz
Dot: Alicyn Ferrante
Schrank: Adam Frazier
Krupke: Samuel Locke
Glad hand: Shayna Houston
(To purchase photos from the Laurel performance, CLICK HERE.)