Grace's Mosaic Moments

Saturday, June 11, 2022

A West Side Story Tale



Susie, almost unrecognizable with straight hair, 2014


I finally saw the new West Side Story, via Netflix, this week. Loved the updated take on Bernstein's version of Romeo and Juliet, particularly the fact that the cast was doing its own singing. But as the final scene approached, I was inevitably reminded of what happened at the Van Wezel Performing Arts Center in Sarasota (FL) back in the 80s. And yes, this is a true tale. I was there.

My daughter Susie attended Booker Performing Arts High School in Sarasota, to which she was bused each morning from our home 20 miles away in Venice. Because she was almost constantly in rehearsal for something, her transportation home was usually via Mom's stationwagon, the bus having departed hours earlier. (The wagon was usually stuffed with other students who lived in the Venice/Nokomis area—long before the days when "seatbelt safety" was dinned into our heads.)  

As I recall, it was spring of Susie's junior year when she played Maria in West Side Story. Her older brother was in college at the time, but my middle son and I drove up to the Sarasota for a performance on a day when Sarasota County bused every high school student in the county to the Van Wezel. All 1736 seats were full.

As I'm sure most of you recall, the ending of West Side Story is highly dramatic. Tony, thinking Maria is dead, rushes out into the street, challenging her alleged killer, Chino. Just as Tony sees Maria coming toward him, Chino shoots him.

Maria rushes to Tony, picks up the gun Chino has dropped, and turns to face him, the gun pointed straight at him.

At that point, someone in the audience yelled, "Shoot him!" And the entire auditorium took up the chant:  "Shoot him, shoot him, shoot him!" and kept it up. I recall my son Stephen jumping up from his seat (near center front) and yelling for everyone to SHUT UP!!!

Meanwhile, on stage, Susie is somehow staying in character, holding her pose for the considerable amount of time it took the teachers to return the auditorium to quiet. And kudos to all the students on stage. They shook it off and finished the show as if nothing had happened. Susie performed Maria several times in several different venues, including the Bradenton Players, but I'll never forget that raucous moment at the Van Wezel. In all my time in the theater I've never witnessed anything like it.

Below, a "teen photo" of Susie that she probably wishes had gotten lost along the way. From the look on her face, I suspect that's Venice High behind her in the days before her transfer to Booker Performing Arts High, which she loved.

Performing in Miami, 1997

Director of The Citrus Singers, 2019 (in Santa hat)

Susie's Birthday - with Hailey, Cassidy, Riley - 2019

Susie with megalodon tooth, 2022

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Blair's books set in Venice & Sarasota

Shadowed Paradise

Paradise Burning

Death by Marriage

Orange Blossoms & Mayhem

The Art of Evil

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   For a link to Blair's website, click here.

 For a link to Blair's Facebook Author Page  click here.


Thanks for stopping by,

Grace (Blair Bancroft)

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