‘West Side Story’ to finally premiere at UTEP Dinner Theatre

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Julia Hettiger, Staff Reporter

One of the most recognized and highly acclaimed musicals in Broadway history, “West side Story,” a timeless adaptation of “Romeo and Juliet” that was written by Arthur Laurents, with music by Leonard Bernstein and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, will premiere at the UTEP Dinner Theatre on Oct. 9.

This is the first time the UDT will present “West Side Story,” which follows the rivalry between two New York City teenage gangs, the Sharks and the Jets in the 1950s. Both gangs are composed of different ethnicities and are competing for control of their neighborhood. Circumstances escalate when Tony, a former member of the Jets, falls in love with Maria, the sister of the Sharks’ leader.

Hugo Arreola, who will be playing the lead role of Tony, said landing the role is an incredible opportunity.

“I had my sights on Tony in ‘West Side Story’ for almost six years,” Arreola said. “To say that I’m excited is an understatement.”

Jaime Barba, one of the costume designers at the UDT and director of the show, said he chose to do “West Side Story” because he thought it would be a good fit.

“Every season, I get to direct one show and I usually get to pick the show that I direct, and I went to the planning meeting with ‘West Side Story’ in mind,” Barba said. “It was a show that I knew our audiences would love. It is one of the most beloved classic musicals ever written. The music, the songs and the dancing, I thought we could do and do well, and I felt we had the performers we needed to do this show.”

Barba also said he felt the theme of the musical is still something that is relevant today.

“The re-telling of Shakespeare’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’ in a modern setting highlights societal issues that are still at the forefront in 2015, 58 years after the show originally premiered,” Barba said. “The issues of discrimination based on race, prejudices, street violence are all topics you will see on any nightly news today, and I felt this story still needs to be told and today’s audiences can still identify with these issues.”

Arreola said what he looks forward to the most when performing in this show is the emotional journey it will take him and the audience on.

“This role calls for plenty of emotional ups and downs,” Arreola said. “To express that through singing and performance is unlike anything else.”

During the auditions, Barba said he looked for someone who could truly move with the music and bring in a personality that suits the storyline.

“I look for personality and I look for confidence,” Barba said. “Those are traits that an actor onstage needs to have to make a character memorable, and for this show they obviously had to dance as well, so someone who could move was essential.”

Barba said that when he is going into an audition, he has an idea of what he is looking for in an actor.

“I try to see that particular person in the part that they are auditioning for,” Barba said. “An audition is like the actor’s job interview, so that actor has to show me that I need to hire them over someone else.”

Rachel Robins, a junior music theater major, said she is going to see “West Side Story” because she enjoys the UDT’s shows.

“I want to see it because I love musicals and ‘West Side Story’ is a classic,” Robins said. “Also, I have a lot of friends in the show.”

As a performer who has been in multiple UDT productions, Robins also said she expects a lot from the show.

“I expect the high standard that comes with a dinner theater show,” Robins said. “And since it’s a dance-heavy show, I know the dancing is going to be on point.”

The menu for the dinner performances includes chicken wellington with veloute sauce, pasta roma, garden salad with house dressing, snowflake dinner rolls, coffee and iced tea. For dessert, brownie a la mode will be served.

Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday matinee dinner tickets are $31.50 for UTEP students, $39.50 for UTEP faculty and staff. Adult tickets for general public are $41.50 and $39.50 for children. Friday and Saturday tickets are $34.50 for UTEP students, $39.50 for UTEP faculty and staff. Adult tickets for the general public are $46.50 and $44.50 for children. All military get a discount with a valid ID.

For more information about “West Side Story” and the UTEP Dinner Theatre, call 747-6060.

Julia Hettiger may be reached at [email protected]