Home Entertainment ‘Something’s Coming’: Behind Montclair State’s Production of ‘West Side Story’

‘Something’s Coming’: Behind Montclair State’s Production of ‘West Side Story’

by Babee Garcia
The cast of “West Side Story” talking with Chita Rivera, who originated the role of Anita, at one of their rehearsals. Photo courtesy of Mark Hardy

The cast of “West Side Story” talking with Chita Rivera, who originated the role of Anita, at one of their rehearsals.

Photo courtesy of Mark Hardy

Montclair State’s department of theatre and dance presents “West Side Story”—a twisted tale inspired by Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet.”

Known as one of the most revolutionary treasures in musical theatre, “West Side Story” will be performed by Montclair State students at the Alexander Kasser Theater for a limited time only, starting Feb. 25 at 8 p.m., with two performances on Feb. 26 at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m., as well as March 1 through 3 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $15 each for the public, but are free of charge for undergraduate students with a valid Montclair State ID.

“West Side Story” is set on the mean streets of New York in the 1950s, where there is a cultural divide between two gangs: the Sharks and the Jets. The masterminds of this timeless classic are Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim (responsible for the musical score), as well as Jerome Robbins, who created the original choreography.

Maria, a Puerto Rican woman from the Sharks clan, has a forbidden romance with Tony, a white man from the Jets. The clash between these feuding families causes a huge strain on Maria and Tony’s relationship. With fights, romance, memorable songs, such as “I Feel Pretty,” and tragedy, “West Side Story” still remains one of the most talked about shows in musical theatre.

Director Mark Hardy, explained why “West Side Story” maintains its popularity and pertinence in today’s society: “I’m very sad to say that ‘West Side Story’ remains very relevant. Hate groups have risen by 200 percent in this country in the last 18 months. The recent election unearthed a deeply disturbing and very dangerous tide of hatred, prejudice and xenophobia among our citizens. People who are perceived as different are still fighting for the right to love one another. Immigrants are still reviled by many people here. How is that 60 years have passed since it first opened and the issues it explores continue to drag our society down so tragically? It’s also relevant because the score, choreography and libretto have not dated. True classics are new to every generation, and this one has a voice that remains fresh and startling.”

Hardy, a musical theatre director with 16 years of experiene, became highly interested in the subject in high school, when he saw “Sweeney Todd” on Broadway and was greatly influenced by his English literature teacher. Hardy’s parents had given him tremendous support and freedom throughout his journey as a actor for the past 20 years in New York. Drawing from his experience, Hardy teaches his students and the cast to be persistent. The work is never glamorous, and Hardy urges everyone to be themselves.

In preparation for the leading male role as Tony, Alexander Carr channeled his personal pain onset during rehearsals, while mourning the death of his high school friend last Saturday.

“I collapsed immediately into my best friend, Jeremy, who plays Action, and began to sob uncontrollably,” Carr said, recalling the moment he learned of the news. “I think most of the cast had just assumed I was really immersed in the character, but Mark Hardy, being the brilliant director and genius that he is, immediately knew something was up and rushed over to comfort me. I truly don’t think I’ll ever forget that moment, and in all honesty, [the play] really helped me cope with my friend’s passing. It’s part of what I love most about theatre. There are so many real and accessible emotions we can find within ourselves to portray moments on stage; we just have to be willing to dig for them.”

Carr also mentioned that some of the teenage cast members, who are taking on supposed “adult” roles, provide more authenticity than the various other versions of “West Side Story.”

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