MINOOKA – The musical “West Side Story,” with its unforgettable music, extraordinary dancing and timeless romance and tragedy, is a favorite for many, and it is this year’s spring musical at Minooka Community High School.
It’s also a dream come true for at least three of those involved in it – a play that has been at the pinnacle of their acting/directing/choreographic interests for years.
Sophomore Lizzy Murray said she was ecstatic when she learned she was cast as the lead role of Maria.
“It’s one of my favorite musicals,” she said. “I was not expecting it at all. I was in denial about it because Maria has been one of my dream roles. I love her songs, and I love the finale.”
“I have wanted to do this my entire life,” said the musical’s choreographer, retired MCHS counselor Patricia Grawey-Beeler. “I grew up listening to it.”
“Hands down this is my favorite musical,” said Glenda Smith, MCHS social studies and art administrator and director of the play. “I’m a sap for romance and a little bit of the tragic. ... I’ve wanted to do this musical ever since I started directing. I just had to wait until I had the right combination of pit orchestra kids and the right cast members who could do it onstage. It all came together this year.”
Set in New York City in the 1950’s, West Side Story is the tale of two young idealistic lovers who find themselves caught between warring street gangs – the Jets and the Sharks. The action and romance is portrayed with dialogue, music and dance.
The two young lovers, Tony and Maria, are both played by underclassmen. Ben Dow, a freshman, is Tony.
“I read for Tony because I wanted to test the limits of my ability, and I knew Tony was a challenging role,” Ben said. “I also thought that it would be a really fun part to play.”
Ben said Tony is an optimistic character who never gives up on hope. His feelings range from those of tenderness to anger.
“It’s a very hard part to play,” Ben said, “because you have to hit the notes and concentrate on the music while you’re still acting and keeping in character.”
Ben, a baritone, said some of the notes are not easy ones to hit, either. And the dancing presents a whole other difficulty.
“I haven’t done as much dancing as the rest of the cast,” he said. “It does present a challenge because I’m not a very coordinated person.”
Lizzy said Maria is a young girl who is pretty innocent but is ready to start experiencing life. It’s a fun role, she said, but not the easiest one.
“It can be pretty stressful,” she said. “A lot of the singing is really higher notes, and I have to hold them out a lot. ... Learning the dances is hard, but it gets easier the more you do it.”
“Lizzy is really sweet, and that is perfect for Maria,” Smith said. “She also has a beautiful voice. ... She has been great to work with. ... Ben has a beautiful singing voice and is an actor as well. He comes happy and excited to each rehearsal.”
Smith said the whole cast and the musicians are talented and are doing well in rehearsals. The play is timeless, too, she said.
Grawey-Beeler said the dancing in the musical creates the mood for the character or the tone of what’s happening or what’s going to happen.
There are so many dance genres represented, she said, such as the mambo when the Sharks challenge the Jets, the cha-cha when Tony and Maria fall in love, the jitterbug, ballet and jazz.
It’s been a journey, she said, but the students are doing just fine.
“They all are approaching it as something they knew they were signing on to,” she said. “They have worked hard to get it.”
Grawey-Beeler said she knows the audience will love it.
“I think they will enjoy the fact that there’s really never a down time,” she said. “It will carry you from song to song and from dance to dance.”