My two-hour immersion into 1950s New York was admittedly my first foray into the world of the Sharks and Jets. When it first premiered in 1957, it was heralded as a groundbreaking musical that explored dark themes of racism and violence while also gracing its audience with a sweet and tragic love story. Fifty-six years later, we regard racial prejudice through a different lens. We may even interpret the overt conflict between the two gangs as cartoonish in the context of the 21st century, but its heartfelt story prevails, and the dance numbers only highlight the youthful vitality of the production that has survived for decades.
McGill’s musical talent is fresh and remarkable – both leads, Tony and Maria (played by Christopher Stevens-Brown and Piper Ainsworth respectively) sing with bright and clear voices that carry well throughout the theatre. The Jets are standouts as well, providing lively comic relief in the form of dynamic blends of song and dance. “Gee, Officer Krupke” delivered laughs, and thus brought us to a higher place from which to fall in awaiting the musical’s tragic ending.
The themes of adolescence and innocence were cemented beautifully by the costumes, which were crafted with a careful attention to detail. The female Sharks stood out in bold jewel tones that certainly attracted the eyes of concertgoers. Their mixed-meter “América” was delightfully tongue-in-cheek. Additionally, the set-design and musical score complimented each other harmoniously, the distinctively grungy back-alley visuals emphasized the unique percussion that twinkled and tapped its way through the script’s unfolding.
While the cast as an ensemble was energetic and animated enough to make for quite an entertaining show, it was Vanessa Drusnitzer playing Anita who truly shone. Her performance was loud and feisty, injecting a sense of vigor to the musical that would not have existed without her strong vocals and personality.
Overall, the show was a pleasure to attend. McGill students should catch this wonderful display of talent showing only January 31st-February 2nd.