After a three-year hiatus, Tanglin returned to the big stage with Broadway classic, West Side Story. From the first notes to the final breath, West Side Story is one of the most memorable musicals and greatest love stories of all time. We sat down with student participants as well as Kathryn (Kate) Edwards (Director), Anita Sprague (Co-Director), and Rob Hall (Music Director), who led a team of 82 students; actors, designers, dance choreographers, musicians, backstage crew, who put in hundreds of man hours for four nights of performances, to learn more about their sentiments behind the scenes.
Q: Why did you choose West Side Story, amongst other classics for this year’s production?
Kate: As this is Tanglin’s return to the big stage following the pandemic, there is no better musical to kick start than West Side Story; from toe-tapping songs, larger than life characters and a plot that thickens with each scene. The musical has often been compared with Romeo and Juliet, and as Shakespeare himself puts it, “Two households, both alike in dignity…” begins Romeo and Juliet, in which we see “ancient grudge break to new mutiny”.
West Side Story echoes the theme of marginalisation and understanding. Today, in the midst of migration, new citizens and refugees, I hope we can reiterate the importance of respect and empathy.
Q: How long (man hours) did the production take to start and develop before showtime?
Kate: We put in hundreds of hours. For context, we spent 40 hours on campus during performance week alone, rehearsing and performing. Countless of extra time were also spent in production and administration roles.
Putting together a musical with dancers, actors, singers and ensemble requires a lot of teamwork. The students who participated did so well and complemented one another to put together four shows. We saw many proud parents amongst the audience!
Q: What were your observations about this year’s production versus previous years'?
Anita: I felt that the buy-in from students was outstanding this year. This may partly be the result of ‘Grease’ being cancelled two years ago due to the pandemic, meaning that it has been almost four years since we have had a musical. It was clear that the students wanted this to happen. Their commitment was incredible, and their energy was infectious. Also the advent of the Dance Showcase earlier in the year created an appetite for dance and performance that directly impacted the signup for West Side Story. We had an increase of Year 12 students signing up after the showcase - such was their enthusiasm!
Q: How was it like getting cast and ensemble to have chemistry, especially for such a big group?
Rob: Casting the show from a musical perspective was challenging - coming in new this year. I didn’t really know the students or their voices. The auditions however were enlightening and enabled us to designate roles based on vocal ranges and tonal qualities, as well as all the other factors that go into casting. Another real challenge was the fact that we had a ‘gender-neutral’ approach to some of the roles and wider ensemble, meaning that the voices we had didn’t always match with the tessitura of the written score, particularly with so many middle school students involved. The cast however were creative and imaginative in their response, and developed a much greater understanding of their individual voices – they experimented and found what worked best for them personally in pursuit of the overall affect. They embraced the challenges with energy, real enthusiasm and the sense of teamwork and camaraderie was impressive.
Q (for students): What were some of the challenges along the way and how did you resolve them?
“For me, one of the biggest challenges was working with a traverse audience. While this is a refreshing and new theatre experience for me, it is for sure challenging, as you have to make sure everyone in the audience feels included (on both sides of the theatre), which sometimes gets hard, because you have to make sure you evenly divide your time engaging with both sides. However, I think this really added to the atmosphere of the performance, as it allowed people to maybe get a better view, and I feel as if the stage almost impersonated a street, which very much works for a gang fight atmosphere.” - Ashwin S, Ensemble (Jets), Year 8
“One of the challenges for me would have been spatial awareness and trying not to make it look awkward or trying not to block the audience's view. I usually found myself wondering if I was making the spatial relations between my other cast-mates awkward. However, Mrs Sprague and Mrs Edwards really helped by directing us to either move forward or back.” - Johnathan G (Bernardo), Year 13
Q: What were the students’ sentiments?
Kate: For many, it was their first time not only performing for a musical, but also on stage, with an actual audience! Most had to juggle schoolwork along with the rehearsals. However, with the time spent backstage, many friendships were made. I am certain this experience will be one they will remember for the rest of their lives!
Hear what some of the students had to say:
“As a new student at Tanglin, joining West Side Story was one of the best decisions I have made. I started this production with very few friends. However, the friendships, confidence and camaraderie from this production has been a game changer for me. It’s been such an incredible experience, and everyone has been kind and welcoming. They worked us hard, but every hour spent was worth the joy I got from performing. I would recommend doing this musical to everyone, specifically people wishing to meet like-minded people.” - Orla B (Ensemble), Year 9
“I’ll remember a lot about working as an ensemble in traverse. I’ve worked by myself or in small groups in traverse for Titus Andronicus, but a big group is a very different experience. I’ll also remember a lot about how to interact and psych up such a large ensemble while on stage, and prompting people to work with me on unique reactions.” – Ava L (Anybodys), Year 1
“One of the things that I really took away from West Side Story was the close friendships I formed between the other cast members. Despite the fact that the cast is made up of many different year groups, it did not stop anyone from making new friends that we could share happy memories with, to remember in the years to come.” - Christiana D (Maria), Year 12
- The Arts