Jennifer Brooks takes a break from rehearsals for “West Side Story” at North Rockland High School. Photo by Peter D. Kramer/The Journal News.
Last fall, North Rockland High School’s Jennifer Brooks, 16, played Lady Capulet in Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet.” This week, she plays Maria, a Puerto Rican girl who finds herself at the center of the same story of star-crossed lovers, transplanted to New York City, in “West Side Story.”
“I’ve always loved ‘West Side Story,’ and Maria, but I never ever imagined I’d ever play her,” says the junior. “It’s terribly exciting.”
“There’s something so naive about her, but she’s full of so much excitement and passion. It’s fun to play the transition of her coming to America and then. at the end, what a broken but strong woman she is. The challenge is to piece it together into a perfect arc, so it has the most impact.”
Having played Juliet’s mother in the fall gives her an edge on Maria in the winter, Brooks says.
“Anita is based on Lady Capulet and having the objective of Anita’s point of view is an interesting perspective for playing Maria. Seeing it from both sides enhances the character.”
Her favorite scene is the iconic balcony scene in “Tonight,” another opportunity to act opposite her co-star, Kieran Murphy, who plays Tony.
“He’s such an amazing actor to work with and it’s such an iconic scene. To be able to perform it and put a fresh take on it is so exciting.”
Benjamin Stevens plays Tony in Suffern High School’s production of “West Side Story.” Photo by Peter D. Kramer
Meanwhile, nine miles away, another Tony is in the wings.
Benjamin Stevens, 17, a senior at Suffern High School, plays Tony in Suffern’s production of “West Side Story.”
Last year, he was Anthony in “Sweeney Todd”; as a freshman, he was the understudy for Valjean in “Les Miserables,” performing the role at a matinee.
Tony, a soda jerk who dreams of something big, is a complex character, Stevens says.
“He has the kid aspect in him that the other Jets have, but he’s trying to break away and make his way in the world.”
As Tony, he sings “Maria,” his favorite moment.
“When you’re falling in love, you can’t help but think about that person and just that name. The sound of her name gets to me.”
Another key moment is when Tony turns from hope to despair, having heard that Maria is dead at the hands of her intended boyfriend, Chino. Tony stalks the streets, begging for Chino to end his life, too.
“He can’t live with himself, he’s all anger and desperation. It’s hard to make that switch from hope to despair. But once I get into it, I’ll find it.”
He’s pretty sure he’ll find tears.
“When you’re really involved in it, it just comes out of you,” he says.