Luciana Varkevisser, Contributing Photographer

This weekend, Yalies will have the chance to step into the vibrant streets of 1960s New York City with “West Side Story” as it premieres this weekend in the Crescent Underground Theater. 

The show focuses on tensions and a clash between Latine and European immigrants at different stages in their immersion in the U.S. Based on the classic tale of “Romeo and Juliet,” this musical tells the story of Maria and Tony, who are on opposite sides of gang conflict. Leonard Bernstein and Arthur Laurent’s culturally defining musical is being brought to life at Yale by director Emiliano Caceres Manzano ’26.

“This is a story where people feel things in really big ways,” Manzano said. “It is propelled by the restless energy of these young people. I really really admire its ability to transport the audience to kind of the restless energy of youth: the feeling of having your whole future ahead of you but not necessarily knowing what to do with it, having to decide what to believe [and] decide who you’re going to be.” 

Manzano’s interpretation of the 1950s cultural zeitgeist is characterized by intimacy and youth. The small size of the Crescent Underground Theater — while first seen as a challenge — proved useful in creating an intimate atmosphere, Manzano said.

The emotions of somber and loving scenes are heightened by the use of lights. A rosy light illuminates the stage when Maria and Tony are expressing their love for each other, while a simple white light creates a solemn atmosphere when the lives of the characters are tainted by death and violence. 

Actors make the most of the small space by using easily transportable props, interacting on occasion with audience members and dancing in the aisles. The energy during dance scenes is palpable, invigorated by the live 13-piece orchestra directed by Nicole Lam ’25. 

Choreographers Katia George ’25 and Amara Neal ’26 utilize every inch of the space, successfully creating a lively atmosphere through song and dance. Whether in a fun or violent manner, the vivacity with which actors dance and sing immerses viewers in the story. 

While the show follows racial tensions between European and Latine American immigrants, several actors told the News that they were intentional in the way they portrayed these characters, wanting them to be more than just their ethnicity. 

“When taking on this role, I really want to be cognizant of making sure that [my character] has different layers,” said Zaida Rio Polanco ’26, who plays Anita. “I really want to make sure that I stay true to the fact that she’s a multifaceted character, she’s a pure person rather than what Hollywood has made Latinos out to be in that stereotype.”

Actors also said they wanted to be intentional about how they wanted their portrayal of female characters. 

Juliet in Shakespeare’s original version of the story is typically interpreted as being naive. However, Isabella Walther-Meade ’25 — who plays Juliet’s counterpart Maria — brought much more dimensionality to the character. 

“My portrayal of Maria is rooted in her agency and resilience,” Walther-Meade said. “She’s not simply defined by innocence; she’s fiercely loving and unwaveringly hopeful, even as her world crumbles around her. For Maria, loving Tony isn’t naive; it’s an act of defiance against the chaos engulfing their lives.” 

Yale’s interpretation of “West Side Story” is a testament to the tenacity, energy and hope of youth.

The musical will be playing April 18 to 20 in the Crescent Underground.

Luciana Varkevisser covers theater and performances. She is a freshman in Saybrook College planning on majoring in history and psychology.