When you're a Jet: A profile of Zack Goldberg as Riff
Published: Tuesday, March 31, 2009 - 10:34pm
Music by Leonard Bernstein
Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
SPRING MUSICAL 2009
- Director: Barbara Ridenour
- Music Director: Rick Murphy
- Choreographers: Kim Alexander, Alicia Cross Engelhardt
- Costume Design: Mary Stasheff
- Performances: 7 p.m. Thursday;
7:30 p.m. Friday; 2:30, 7:30 p.m. Saturday, North Attic Playhouse
- Tickets: All shows are sold out
"When you're a Jet, you're a Jet all the way/ from your first cigarette/ to your last dying day."
SOLOS ARE THE goal when auditioning for a musical. The first solo in "West Side Story," this year's spring musical, comes in "Jet Song," setting the mood for the rest of the story.
The honor of that solo belongs to junior Zack Goldberg, who portrays Riff in Uni's production of the Leonard Bernstein-Stephen Sondheim classic, which opens Thursday night in the North Attic Playhouse.
Directed by Barbara Ridenour, with music direction by Rick Murphy and choreography by Kim Alexander and Alicia Cross Engelhardt, the show will also be performed Friday and Saturday evenings as well as Saturday afternoon.
The popular Broadway musical follows two New York gangs, the American Jets and the Puerto Rican Sharks, as they battle to keep Tony the love-struck Jet (senior Daniel Borup), and Maria, his Shark darling (senior Sheri Grill), as far apart as possible.
Here's a look at Goldberg, as he transforms from a mild-mannered Midwestern high school student into a New York City gang leader, complete with accent and late-Fifties street slang.
Goldberg looking sharp as Riff, leader of the Jets. Gargoyle photo by David Porreca (click to enlarge)
Goldberg has been in seven Uni productions since his freshman year, including one other musical ("Anything Goes" in 2007).
Though his friends know him now as a devout thespian, Zack says he was never interested in theater before he came to Uni.
In fact, it wasn't until his older brother, Max, graduated in 2006, that he took to the stage.
“I started acting my freshman year," he says. "My brother was in plays my subbie year; my parents were trying to make me avoid him.”
Now, he auditions for every play and musical, often coming away with large roles, such as Jack Warner in this year’s fall play, "Shakespeare in Hollywood," and, of course, Riff.
A talented singer who is a member of the Uni Madrigals, Goldberg says he has a particular love for musicals, since they combine both acting and singing.
However, he wasn't particularly thrilled when "West Side Story" was announced to be the spring musical.
"I didn’t really like 'West Side Story,'" he says. "It's basically 'Romeo and Juliet' set in modern day with more racism."
If "West Side" is an updated "Romeo and Juliet," then that would make the ill-fated Riff the equivalent of Mercutio, the wisecracking sidekick to Romeo whose death is the catalyst for the rising action of the Shakespeare drama. Which is fine with Goldberg.
"It's weird, you know, dying in front of people like that. But fun."
When Zack auditioned, he was hoping for the male lead, Tony. But he wasn’t disappointed when he got the part of Riff — the next largest male part, along with Shark leader Bernardo (played by senior Teddy Zamora-Mills.)
"[Daniel Borup] has a better high voice than I do," Goldberg says, "and a better low voice than I do, so it works. But I'm really happy playing Riff. It's fun because I get to be the tough kid that I'm really not."
Life as a Jet
When asked what in particular he likes about playing Riff, Goldberg laughs.
"It's fun being the gang leader," he says, "and I like getting to trip people and the fake fights."
Though a leader on the stage, Goldberg says that off the stage his "gang" is just one big friendly group.
Along with fellow Jets Ben Zehr (A-rab), Will Erickson (Diesel), Jared Doyle (Action), Charlie Newman-Johnson (Baby John), Johnny Shapley (Snowboy), and Stefanie Senior (Anybodys), Goldberg hangs out during practices and tries to keep out of the way of the scenes without getting into trouble.
Onstage, however, the fights abound — sometimes with unintentionally comic results. In one scene, he harasses Lt. Schrank, played by senior Jeremy Kemball.
"The first time he pushed me, I just could not contain my laughter," Goldberg recalls. "I was not expecting him to push me. I just sat down on the floor and started laughing.”
Goldberg himself is often a source of amusement during rehearsals.
"Zack is really snap happy," says Senior, whose character Anybodys is a tomboy who longs to be a full-fledged member of the Jets. "Almost all of his nonverbal commands are snaps. It gets pretty funny."
But it takes more than snapping to be a Jet. You've got to be fluent in late-Fifties hipster street talk.
"A lot of the lingo I have to use is really weird," Goldberg says. "Like, if I'm talking to someone, I have to call them a 'buddy boy' or 'daddy-o.' And they make up all kinds of random stuff for slang, stuff that no gangster would ever say. … It's fun, though."
Obsolete slang notwithstanding, Goldberg expects the final production to be good. "West Side Story," though, is definitely a more challenging musical than Uni theater has attempted in recent years.
"A lot of the musicals we've done in the past were pretty heavy on chorus lines, but 'West Side Story' is all about solos," Goldberg says.
The New York City accents of the Jets, too, are a little tricky.
"I actually have developed an accent," Zack says. But when asked to demonstrate, he shakes his head and laughs.
"I can only do it giving a line — and you'll have to see the show for that."
"WEST SIDE STORY" CAST, Orchestra, and Crew MEMBERS
- Tony: Daniel Borup (sr)
- Riff: Zack Goldberg (jr)
- Action: Jared Doyle (jr)
- Diesel: Will Erickson (fr)
- A-Rab: Ben Zehr (so)
- Baby John: Charlie Newman-Johnson (so)
- Snowboy: Johnny Shapley (fr)
- Velma: Brittany Scheid (jr)
- Graziella: Anna Gooler (jr)
- Anybodys: Stefanie Senior (so)
- Minnie: Erin Berl (su)
- Clarice: Sierra Marcum (sr)
- Pauline: Vivian Robison (jr)
- Jet Girls: Brianna Hajek (su), Ella Lubienski (su), Juliana Trach (su)
- Bernardo: Miguel Zamora-Mills (sr)
- Chino: Aramael Pena-Alcantera (fr)
- Pepe: Rodney LeNoir (fr)
- Luis: Stirling Lemme (su)
- Toro: Jack Gillette (su)
- Shark Members: Kaila Simpson (su), Alex Valdez (su)
- Maria: Sheri Grill (sr)
- Anita: Sarah Lake-Rayburn (sr)
- Rosalia: Karen Han (sr)
- Consuela: Lauren Piester (sr)
- Teresita: Kahlilah Cooke (so)
- Francisca: Martha Yoshida (so)
- Margarita: Maia Gersten (fr)
- Shark Girls: Melissa Rosas (su), Kaila Simpson (su), Alex Valdez (su)
- Officer Krupke: Steve Rayburn (English teacher)
- Doc: Rob Diehl (sr)
- Lt. Schrank: Jeremy Kemball (sr)
- Glad Hand: Hannah Leskosky (sr)
- Percussion: Adam Joseph (so), Chris Mathy (so)
- Clarinet: Jacob Druker (sr), Katherine Floess (so), Leif Hague (su)
- Saxophone: Clement Dossin (sr)
- Tuba: Hannah Johlas (fr)
- Bass: Carl Pearson (sr)
- Violin: Chelsea Edwards (su), Annie Rong (fr), Joey Smith (fr), Chae Won Park (su)
- Trombone: Aaron Wilson (su), Lisa Sproat (so)
- Trumpet: Robbie McMillen (fr), Ian Slauch (so)
- Flute: Francois Dossin (fr), Marie Lilly (fr)
- Cello: Petra Rantanen (su)
- Directing Assistance: Steve Rayburn
- Stage Manager: Tianna Pittenger
- Lighting Design & Board Operator: Natsuki Nakamura
- Sound: Natsuki Nakamura
- Set Design: Sierra Marcum
- Poster: Margarita Mouschovias
- Program: Lauren Piester
- T-Shirt Design: Lauren Piester