There's good reason why West Side Story, the Jerome Robbins-Leonard Bernstein-Stephen Sondheim timeless classic has enchanted audiences for decades. Like Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, on which it is loosely based, it is a tale of star-crossed lovers, whose passion must overcome conflicting family loyalties and bitter ethnic rivalry. Set on the streets of New York in the mid-1950s, the backdrop to this love story is ethnic tension, bigotry and gang violence between whites and Puerto Ricans.
Riverhead High School Blue Masques’ production of the Tony award-winning musical retains all the character, flavor and magic that's made the show so popular so long, and has even added its own unique charm.
The Blue Masques handled the challenging dance numbers and vocals of the Bernstein-Sondheim musical with aplomb. The dance numbers were intense and full of energy; the choreography — by head choreographers Chelsea Chizever and Nina Giannuzzi and choreographers Victoria Campbell and Hannah Kulp — was tight, complicated and well-rehearsed, both showcasing the extraordinary talent of individual dancers and demonstrating how well the cast can move together. The ensemble was lively and energetic as well; the chorus numbers were some of the strongest that have ever been performed on the Riverhead High School stage.
High School teachers Dena Tishim and Jessica Guadagnino, who co-direct the production, could not have cast the show any better. Senior Stephen Peppaceno, a Blue Masques veteran, tackled the role of Tony perfectly with his light tenor vocals and impassioned speeches for Maria’s love. Senior Tori Greenidge set herself apart from the rest of the cast as Anita with her strong, booming alto voice and spirited dancing. Stephen Loquet, a senior who has only been in two other Blue Masques musicals, was another performer who really stood out with his memorable performance of Riff.
The pit, directed by RHS teacher Marisa Macchio, handled the difficult rhythms of Bernstein’s legendary score with ease. They skillfully set an intense, jarring mood for the stage-fighting between the Jets and the Sharks and then effortlessly transitioned to the sweet and magical melodies to accompany the budding romance between Maria and Tony.
The set and costumes were also phenomenal, transporting the audience instantly to the streets of New York in the mid 1950s.
It is a memorable and faithful production of West Side Story that is filled with the enthusiasm and passion that audiences have come to expect of the Blue Masques. See cast list.
Be sure to catch the show next weekend on Friday and Saturday on March 30 and 31 at 7 p.m. Tickets are $8 in advance, $10 at the door and $5 for senior citizens.
Katie Blasl, a 2010 graduate of Riverhead High School, was a member of Blue Masques from 2006 through 2010. She currently attends Stony Brook University, where she is majoring in journalism and English.
RiverheadLOCAL photos by Emil Breitenbach Jr.