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Young, tight-knit cast makes MacTheatre history

Spring musical 'West Side Story' sets all-time MacTheatre box-office record for ticket sales.

Zoe Hocker, Assistant Editor

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Anita, played by freshman Helena Lang, sings a duet with Maria, played by senior Hannah Young, during scene three of Act II. Photo by Madison Olsen.

As February starts, the curtains have opened on MacTheatre’s spring musical production: West Side Story. This 1957 Broadway classic showcases a forbidden Romeo and Juliet-style love in the middle of a rivalry between two street gangs, the Sharks and the Jets, in 1950s New York City.

Maria, played on alternate nights by junior Hannah Hufford and senior Hannah Young, is the younger sister of the Sharks’ gang leader Bernardo but falls in love with ex-Jet member Tony. This show is Hufford’s first time in a lead role.

“It’s been very different because I’ve never had to memorize lines or have so many solo songs in a McCallum show,” Hufford said. “It’s a lot more at-home preparation and working every day after rehearsal rather than doing stuff at rehearsal.”

After starting work in December, the cast and crew have all been preparing for the show’s opening every night. There are approximately 42 crew and 80 cast members, so the sheer number of members has been a challenge on its own according to scenic production head and sophomore Stella Shenkmen.

“This is definitely one of the biggest crews I’ve been a part of,” Shenkmen said. “There’s around 50 of us, and there are so many different projects going on. The sets are on wheels, and people are painting them, and you have to make sure no one is about to get run over by something.”

Tony and Maria, played by juniors Till Simon and Hannah Hufford, sing “Tonight, Tonight” during the balcony scene in Friday night’s performance in the MAC. Photo by Gregory James.

While the crew created of moving set pieces, the cast learned the original dance choreography from the Broadway version of the show.

“This show has the dances really integrated into the plot, and [they] help the story more so than usual,” director Joshua Denning said. “So we actually licensed and paid for the original choreography, and it came with the manual with all of these reference images and Jerome Robbins’ original notes. … We had to adapt it in a few areas, not many, but just a few that were too technically challenging for our skill level; there were some really hard moments that we changed. In terms of the scenes, those were our own creation, because they are based on our actors and our set, which is not the Broadway set.”

Sophomore Owen Scales, who plays Pepe and is a male soloist, had to learn the choreography and faced some challenges with the dances.

“Everything has to be very sharp and obvious or else it looks super sloppy,” Scales said. “It has a really jazzy feel to it, and it’s not very technique based, but more emotionally based, so crossing the actions of these gangs into a dance has been the most fun but also very confusing for me.”

Senior Tristan Tierney plays Tony for half of the shows, while junior Till Simon acts in the other half. Tierney says he also faced challenges in this show compared to others when it came to his character.

“[Tony is] more of a leading man type, and that’s really different from Bill or Hanratty from Catch Me If You Can and Me and My Girl,” Tierney said. “It has been a challenge because it’s new territory in types of roles I’ve played. For me personally, I deal with body image stuff sometimes, and that was really hard to get past and be like, ‘I’m a leading man type’ even though I’m 5’8” and I’m not super muscular or tall or anything. So that was really difficult accepting that my Tony was enough to be Tony and not that I needed to live up to a certain standard that other people have set.”

Tony and Maria, played by seniors Tristan Tierney and Hannah Young, talk about their growing love for each other in the Bridal Shop where Maria works. Photo by Madison Olsen.

Even though West Side Story is considered a classic musical, the quality of the production will surprise the audience, according to sophomore Miles Perkins, who plays a Shark gang member.

“I think the entire musical is pretty shocking,” Perkins said. “The audience is going to be shocked that most of the cast are freshmen and sophomores who are brand new to theatre here.”

Denning says the amount of freshmen and sophomores in the show has been exciting for him as well.

“It’s really been a joy,” Denning said. “I feel like they’re here because they’ve heard about McCallum and the program, and they want to be a part of it, and so it’s nice to have such fresh enthusiasm, openness and commitment to work with, whereas, juniors and seniors are starting to think about life after high school—which is —exactly what they should be thinking about, and their focus becomes a little split. They’ve got one foot here and one foot out the door, and that’s all fine and good, and I support that; it’s just different.”

The challenge of the somewhat-rookie cast and the contents of the show, however, haven’t stopped the actors from becoming close with one another during the rehearsal process. The Shark gang even has their own handshake, according to sophomore Shark girl Lucy Abramowitz.

“We’re a really tight-knit group, which I think is really nice,” Abramowitz said. “We are all really supportive of each other. We have a meeting every day before a rehearsal or show, and we go out in the hallway, and we all just hold hands and say, ‘You’re all amazing, and bring the energy,’ and it’s just really nice to be a part of that.”

The show opened on Feb. 1 and hosted its only non-sold-out show out of the weekend. The cast, crew and directors learned on Tuesday that the second weekend of the show has sold out completely before even opening.

“I have been [surprised at the ticket sales],” Denning said. “I mean, it’s kind of the goal. You want the community to see how hard everyone has worked and to experience this art so I feel really good that we achieved our goal and did something that people care about.”

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Young, tight-knit cast makes MacTheatre history