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West Side Show Role

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24th April 2006

Mountview Academy of

Theatre Arts

2nd Year Design

Ð''West Side Story'

Nick Abbott


Page 3: Ð''West Side Story'


Ð''West Side Story'

This journal is written as an account of the process involved in my fourth design role as designer on a musical theatre production of Ð''West Side Story', the original book written by Arthur Laurents, with the music by Leonard Berstein and the lyrics by Stephen Sondheim.

Following on from my previous roles as both designer and assistant designer this would be my second opportunity to undertake a second full theatrical design for a production. From initial discussions to with the director through to the set and costume designs, the design realisation and the run of the show, this journal will endeavour to document the project throughout the production focusing

on all tasks undertaken by myself and including an evaluation of my involvement and the production as a whole.

Ð''West Side Story' is a musical play written by Arthur Laurents, Leonard Bernstein, and Stephen Sondheim, and was originally produced, choreographed, and directed by Jerome Robbins. Ð''West Side Story' debuted on Broadway at the Winter Garden Theater on September 26, 1957 and is loosely adapted from William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, in that the best friend of a gang leader falls in love with the relative of a rival gang's leader. The piece is divided into two acts over a range of interior and exterior locations in New York. These locations include alleyways and similar exterior locations, shops, an apartment, and a gym. From an original cast of 39 this was to be condensed to 22 with three of the lead characters being double cast, being those of Maria and Minnie, Tony and Baby John, and Anita and Marguerita. The setting for the piece is the upper west side of New York in the 1950's and involves the continuing battle for street territory between two rival gangs; the Jets, a group of young Americans, and the Sharks, a group of young Puerto Rican immigrants.

The production opens with a danced Prologue indicating the bitter tensions between the Jets and the Sharks. The leader of the Jets, Riff swears to drive the Sharks, led by Bernardo, from the streets. Riff then decides to challenge Bernardo that night at a dance in the gym, and prevails upon his old friend and the co-founder of the Jets, Tony, to help him. Tony has been growing away from the gang, but agrees. Bernardo's sister Maria, newly arrived from Puerto Rico to marry his friend Chino, attends the dance and despite the obvious hatred between the gangs meets Tony, who at once falls in love with her. Later, after the dance, while the gangs begin to assemble at Doc's drugstore to choose a place and weapons for their rumble, a gang fight, Tony visits Maria on the fire escape of her apartment, and they pledge their love, promising to meet the next afternoon at the bridal shop where Maria works. As he departs, the Sharks take their girls home and go off to the drugstore, while a playful argument develops between Anita and two homesick Puerto Rican girls over the relative merits of life back home and in Manhattan. At the drugstore, the Jets are nervous about the approaching meeting with the Sharks, but Riff advises them to play it cool, and when the Sharks arrive, an agreement is reached, at Tony's insistence, to have a fair, bare-handed fight between the two best fighters in each gang the next night, under the highway. Next day, Tony visits Maria at the shop and among the clothing dummies they enact a touching wedding ceremony. Maria makes him promise to stop the fight between his gang and her brother's. In a deserted area under the highway, the gangs meet for the fight. As it is about to get under way, Tony hurries in, and begs them to stop, as he has promised Maria. Bernardo, enraged that Tony has been making advances to his sister, pushes him back furiously. Suddenly switch-blade knives appear, and Riff and Bernardo begin to fight. In the ensuing action, Riff is knifed, and Tony, grabbing his weapon, in turn knives

Bernardo. Frenzied, the gangs join battle, until they are interrupted by a police whistle. They flee, leaving behind the bodies of Riff and Bernardo. This ends the first act.

The second act begins with Maria in her room happily preparing for her meeting with Tony. She is unaware of what has happened, until Chino bursts into her room and tells her that her brother has been killed by her lover. Seizing a gun, he rushes out in search of Tony. Tony, however, has climbed the fire escape to Maria's room, and in spite of her grief she is unable to send him away. Clinging together desperately they envision a place where they can be free from prejudice. In the streets and alleys the gangs flee the police, panic-stricken by the killings. Two of the Jets, Action and Snowboy, have already been questioned, and they explain to the rest of them how to handle the adults. The sorrowing Anita knocks at Maria's door, and Tony leaves by the window, taking refuge in the basement of Doc's drugstore. Anita argues with Maria for allowing Tony to come near her, but Maria's love for Tony is too strong, and at length Anita agrees to go warn Tony that Chino is gunning for him. She goes to the drugstore, but is brutally taunted by the Jets for her nationality, and finally in hysteria spits out a different message for Tony: that Chino has killed Maria in revenge. Doc tells Tony what Anita has said, and Tony leaves his hiding place, wandering numbly on the streets. At midnight, he runs into Maria, who has been searching for him, but their moment is brief: Chino appears from behind a building and shoots Tony dead. The stunned gangs, the Jets and the Sharks, appear from the shadows and, drawn together by the tragedy, lift up the body of Tony and carry it off.

After learning of my role as designer, and with the aid of an assistant designer, Duncan Parker, and a design assistant, Tomo Kato, my initial involvement consisted of creating a play analysis, a character analysis, and a breakdown of the musical numbers. This would enable me to better understand the locations, timeframes, themes, set, props and characters involved. Being based on such a well known story and incorporating songs that are so widely recognized I was already



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