South Bend Civic’s ‘West Side Story’ is more relevant today than ever – Southerly Bend Tribune

It’s been more than three years since South Bend Civic Theatre began to plan for an April 2020 production of the iconic musical “West Side Story, ” featuring the Southern Bend Symphony Orchestra in a collaboration between the two arts organizations.

The COVID-19 pandemic, of course , led to what Civic Executive Director Aaron Nichols called a “heartbreaking” cancellation and postponement until the community could attend safely,

Now, more than two years later, “West Side Story” finally hits the stage this weekend at the Morris Performing Arts Center with regard to two shows open to the public Oct. 8 plus 9 (a third show, for 2, 400 local students, takes place April. 10).

“This cast has, has been through a lot with having to wait through the pandemic, and a lot of people in the cast have suffered personal losses, ” “West Part Story” director Leah Tirado said. “When you’re telling such a tragic story, it can be really difficult, but this cast has really banded together and stayed strong to get via this process. ”

The appeal of collaboration

The 1957, two-time Tony-Award-winning musical explores the rivalry between two teenage street gangs within Manhattan’s Upper West Aspect, the all-white Jets and the Sharks, the gang made up of Puerto Rican immigrants. Tony, a former Jet, plus Maria, the particular sister of the Sharks’ leader, Bernardo, fall tragically in love in the musical that composer Leonard Bernstein , lyricist Stephen Sondheim and book author Arthur Laurents based on Shakespeare’s “Romeo plus Juliet. inch

The particular show, which will feature a 24-piece orchestra, is the particular first cooperation between Social as well as the SBSO, at least in recent memory. Nichols said it is one of the theater’s biggest productions associated with all time.

“‘West Side Story’ is a majestic musical. I mean, it offers been a classic since it came out. It is known for its remarkable score, it’s beautiful book. It’s one of Stephen Sondheim’s first contributions to the particular American theater canon and (includes) Jerome Robbins’ well-known choreography, inches Nichols stated. “So it really will be one of the biggest, most important musicals, really, actually. In deciding to tackle this musical, we didn’t go in without bearing that inside mind. ”

Such a major manufacturing, Nichols mentioned, required four times the typical sponsorship dollars needed to put on a Civic show. He credited five major sponsors ― the particular University of Notre Dame, the Shein Trust, Kahn Ruthrauff plus Associates with Merrill, the Community Foundation of St . Joseph County, and Mike Leep, Sr. ― along with many donors, with helping make the particular show the reality.

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“It’s a really unique collaboration, and it’s something that will, when we were figuring out how we wanted to do this, how we wanted in order to cast, it was definitely a big draw, inch Tirado said about attracting actors to the creation. “You’re gonna be able to perform on the particular Morris Performing Arts phase, and we’re going in order to be able to carry out this along with the symphony, which is usually a really unique experience for the lot associated with performers. So it was almost an incentive that we used to get people to come out and audition, because it is such a cool encounter to get that full sound. ”

Amplifying ‘Latinx voices’

Nichols said the idea to bring “West Part Story” to Civic first came in order to him after the theatre put on a production of Lin Manuel Miranda’s “In The Heights” in 2018, also directed by Tirado .

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Miranda’s musical tells the story of residents within the largely Dominican-American neighborhood of Upper Manhattan’s Washington Heights. Civic’s version, Nichols said, was a “successful collaboration” with Southern Bend’s Latino artistic community.

“We stated ‘How can … all of us continue working to amplify the particular Latinx voices in our community? ‘ And one associated with the 1st musicals that came up was ‘West Side Tale, ‘” Nichols recalled. “So, at that will point, we all said ‘OK, can we do this particular? And if the answer is definitely “yes, inches who perform we need to involve to make it a success? ‘ And the first organization that came to mind was the symphony. ”

It was important to Nichols that Social worked with Latinos behind the scenes, as well because within the cast. Tirado, regarding instance, shares the Sharks’ Puerto Rican background. Assistant music movie director Juan Carlos Alarcon and choreographer Jon Martinez also have Latino heritage.

“I remember being in a musical theater background class, plus they were talking about how there was only one Puerto Rican in the particular whole thing, inch Tirado mentioned. “And if you are going to tell a story about someone’s culture, and this is very much about our culture, I think those people need to be in the room so they may say, ‘Hey, but Puerto Rico’s actually not like that’ (or) ‘Oh, we really don’t use that expression, that’s more of Cuban or Mexican thing. ’ If you’re going to tell somebody’s tale, they’re going to need to be within the room therefore they can tell you exactly what you got right and what you obtained wrong. ”

It hasn’t always been that will way in the arts, in general, or along with “West Aspect Story, inches specifically.

Carol Lawrence , Broadway’s original Maria, is of Italian descent, for instance, while the 1961 film’s Nancy, Natalie Wood , was your daughter associated with Russian immigrants.

“I am Puerto Rican, and my family did not like the representation from the original ‘West Side Story, ‘” Tirado said. “It has been something that I actually wasn’t allowed to watch since a kid because my mom didn’t want me, as a bi-cultural person, … to have this negative view of one associated with my cultures. ”

Given some of the musical’s subject matter, she said, getting it right is particularly important.

“It’s a hard part of our own history that cultural gang wars are a thing, ” Tirado says, “so when you’re telling a tale as sensitive as that will, you want to make sure that you’re not really playing in order to stereotypes. ”

Bringing in top talent

Tirado and Civic held nationwide auditions intended for the production.

“We desired to make sure that all of us found the right people for the roles, which usually meant casting things authentically and getting as many Latino people, Latina, Latinx individuals within the door, ” Tirado said. “We have throw people from Chicago, through New York, from California, through Texas, from Phoenix. So we possess people all over the country that are usually flying in to do the show, which is pretty exciting. ”

Ultimately, Civic cast Alexandra Imbrosci-Viera , an accomplished singer plus Broadway actress, as Helen.

“We decided that we all required to really try to find the best of the best … to do this great work justice, inch Nichols said. “We wished to make certain that, specifically, the character of Maria was played not only simply by a Latina but by someone who could sing a part that is considered really challenging and very operatic. inches

Actor Nicholas Belton , who plays Maria’s doomed lover Tony a2z, also has Broadway credits. Belton, a South Bend native and graduate of Clay High School, spent 20 years within New York City, where he was in Broadway productions of “Hair, ” “Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812” and “Carousel. ” This individual also is at a Chicago production of “Wicked. ”

“We have got raised the particular bar to create nationally-renowned actors in to work alongside our local cohort associated with performers, which I think is even better than a fully professional cast because, then, there are opportunities for mentorship. …, inch Nichols stated. “What a wonderful way in order to continue the education of our local stars. ”

For Belton, “West Side Story” will not be his first period taking the stage for Social. In high school, he was inside a manufacturing of Neil Simon’s “Laughter on the 23rd Floor” and participated in multiple cabarets in the movie theater.

He stated returning to South Bend to be in “West Side Story” has been a “cool, full-circle moment. ”

“I got in order to … spend some time reacquainting myself with this place that gave me my creative wings, ” he said. “Growing up, there was so much theater around, you know, to get Firefly plus the Civic, and that was the childhood. That’s how We socialized, and it still is today. inches

Belton mentioned Tirado, the particular director, provides put an unique South Bend-inspired twist around the classic “West Side Story. ”

“This feels a little bit grittier and a little bit more relevant and modern, ” this individual said. “Especially when you think about how the demographics of South Bend and how the west side has blown up … in the last like 10 or two decades. ”

He said he hopes the show honors both Puerto Rican culture plus Latino tradition in Southern Bend within general. In a lot associated with ways, he or she said, the show’s themes of social conflict and socioeconomic plus political differences remain related today.

Nichols said he hopes these themes resonate with the audience.

“I mean, the beautiful music, the particular beautiful choreography help to heighten the storyplot, but, I believe, ultimately, it’s a tragic story of what happens when we let division drive us, inch he said. “Right now in the world, that’s a pretty important lesson to learn. ”

Teaming up with the SBSO

For SBSO Music Director Alastair Willis, partnering along with Civic on this show was an easy decision. As South Bend’s orchestra, “we strive to embrace the community as much because possible” by means of collaborations with local artists and groups, Willis stated.

Having participated in cinema much of their life and having even performed in London’s West End, Willis said, this individual feels “absolutely at home” working together with Nichols, Tirado, Martinez plus the rest of the actors and musicians. He or she said the quality of the music in “West Side Story” makes it an uniquely special show.

“Bernstein was so connected to the period he lived in. He lived inside Nyc, this individual was aware of the particular culture. This individual wrote through experience plus from the heart, inches Willis mentioned. “These songs are timeless, and they’re still relevant today, that is crazy, but you combine the music along with the dance with the particular story with the visuals, it just stands out on another quality level. ”

He or she said this feels as if everyone he or she knows, himself included, has some kind associated with connection with “West Side Tale. ” Because a young trumpet player, about 14 or 15 years old, Willis had been invited in order to play in the pit at another higher school’s manufacturing of the show.

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“My trumpet teacher had been planning to do that, but he couldn’t do it and asked if I actually would be interested, ” Willis recalled. “I really was not on the degree to be able to play it really well, but in three or 4 weeks, I’ve never practiced so hard due to the fact I love the particular music. I really like the jazziness, I love the rhythms, and I grew so much individually and as the trumpet gamer because I put our heart and soul into it. It was my very first paid gig as nicely. ”

He said this individual still remembers the huge impression that production of the display had about him.

“I credit that experience to having kept me in songs, and perhaps to being exactly where I am right now, ” Willis said. “I have conducted the background music within concert many times since then. I perform the music all the time in home . It’s simply such a part of who We are, and in order to now be capable to conduct a full, proper creation from the pit is a bucket list I get to cross off. ”

Email Tribune staff writer Claire Reid from [email protected] com .