Letter to the Editor: Appreciation for West Side Story and its teachings

To the Editor:

To the parched audience at Waukon High School auditorium so long denied group gatherings, West Side Story was a cool drink of water in a July hayfield. Just to be back in the seats, hear the rustle of programs and the nervous murmur of moms and dads was a draught, soothing the soul of our community.

Set in the mean streets of New York, this retelling of Romeo and Juliet has the most gripping and lyrical music of any musical put on stage. To attempt to tell this story in Waukon took courage, vision and dedication from Waukon High staff/volunteer crew of Sarah Bieber, Louise Wild, Adam Hooten, JoAnn Sherman, Sarah Hagen and Katie O’Regan.

First mention must be the dancing. Channeling Jerome Robbins, Adam Hooten pulled deft muscle and sinew movement from all on stage. Protagonists and first act casualties Riff and Bernardo were played with abandon by Ethan Hooten and Ryan VanderVelden. Caleb Perkins gave compassion to the role of Tony. And Maria; Madelyn Helgerson’s portrayal was a delight from her eyes to all of her teenager in love.

Principal women of the rival gangs Alaina Gebel and Violet Holthaus melted into their roles with grace, sass and passion. Abby Wiemerslage was nothing but Action! Character specialists Elliot Kooiker and Jacquline Maruna made a big footprint on stage. Special mention must be made of Keira Miller.

“Gee, Officer Krupke” was an audience favorite. Opening night jitters kept us from hearing all the dialogue. The spare set was augmented wonderfully with a backlit projection screen. A professional sound track kept singers on tempo and pitch. A capable pit band filled in the scene changes.

I would normally wind up my Bravos here. I must go further.

I was stationed with the Army in New York City in the early 70’s. I saw first hand the factious neighborhoods versus the immigrant of the day. It’s throughout our country now. The Us against Them is playing out on every stage we can imagine. It’s got to stop.

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven”. Onstage we saw an impossible situation transform into the beginning of peace, truth and reconciliation. What if more gave up their right to retribution and revenge? Let our children lead us.
Russ Hagen