By Connor Sadler, January 8 2015 —
To kick off the Winter semester, the University of Calgary’s School of Creative and Performing Arts (SCPA) will host a production of West Side Story.
Written by Jerome Robbins, West Side Story is a 1950s musical take on Romeo and Juliet. The ill-fated lovers are not part of the warring Montague and Capulet families, but are caught between two feuding New York street gangs — the American Jets and the Puerto Rican Sharks. The racial divide between the gangs adds tension to the conflict and, according to artistic and musical director Colleen Whidden, this was part of the reason the musical was chosen.
“We thought that the students would really be able to relate to this particular work. The idea of societal violence, the idea of division, the idea of racism — they’re still so prevalent today,” Whidden says. “We wanted to challenge the students to see that this [divide] is not from the past and to think about it a little bit.”
Although different adaptations of West Side Story have been performed for decades, the SCPA production will stay true to the original play.
“We had really talked about it as an artistic team, about putting it in the future or changing it up,” Whidden says. “The music and the dance and the dramaturgy are very, very tightly wound. Sometimes you don’t want to mess with something that’s good.”
The production is part of the SCPA’s efforts to have all of the fine arts departments collaborate. With the original production featuring a large number of dance pieces, the SCPA thought it was a perfect opportunity to bring in the dance and music departments.
The play features original choreography as well as a 25-person live pit orchestra.
“It’s important that it’s not just music performance and not just a drama performance,” Whidden says. “It’s a real bringing together of the arts and the art community outside of the university.”
In addition to fine arts students, the cast will include members of the Calgary arts community, which Whidden believes adds vibrancy to the production.
“These particular productions are a really neat combination of current students, alumni and community members, so there’s a real depth to the performance,” Whidden says. “We have some people who are older and bring a little bit more life skill, and we have students who are training right now and are at the ‘top of their game’ in their acting and singing ability.”`
West Side Story runs from Jan. 8–15 at the University Theatre. Tickets are $20 for adults and $15 for seniors and students. U of C students with valid student ID can see the performance for free as part of the SCPA’s Claim Your Seat program.