“West Side Story” production portrays timeless themes


westsidestory1The UW-Fox Communication Art Center hosted a production of West Side Story Feb. 25–March 6.

This modern day 1950s New York version of Romeo and Juliet represented the socially constructed issues like gender roles and herd mentality through a dispute between rival families.

West Side Story builds upon William Shakespeare’s work while incorporating a modern 1950s gang relation element.

Director Susan Rabideau’s thematic perspective emphasized relationships in this performance.

“Each person has their own story and that’s what we have to remember. We have such a group relation mentality for gang stuff, but individually each one of them is probably not a terrible person,” Rabideau said.

Actor James Frelich, who played Snowboy, noted that the production was generally true to the original source material.

“[Our production adheres to] tradition to the sense to the script, yet the message conveyed to the audience is modern,” Frelich said.

Audience member Enrique Alamilla spoke about the relevance of this timeless West Side Story message, seeing parallels to the immigration themes in the musical and the current political climate.

“It’s very applicable today, now with the upcoming election, with the claims and comments made by Donald Trump, it’s definitely stirred up the immigrant population. It’s very relevant to what’s happening in today’s world,” Alamilla said.

Members of today’s society, like West Side Story protagonist Tony, still find themselves confronting issues like racial disparity, discrimination, immigration, gender roles and gang relations.

Five hundred years have passed since William Shakespeare originally wrote the story that influenced West Side Story, and Susan Rabideau believes this musical still represents society fairly well.

“We still have this inability to appreciate others who are different than ourselves, and we still have kids using weapons that get them in trouble that jams up their entire life; [they] think they are invincible. We [definitely] still have these major themes,” Rabideau said.

Actress Miki Wise, who portrayed the character Zaza, agreed with the universal relevance of the story.

“It’s better to embrace [cultures and differences in other people] and become educated than to ignore it and try to pretend everyone is the same. It’s good to sit down and talk about it,” Wise said.

Alamilla plans to apply the West Side Story messages to his own life.

“Just accepting others, realizing that in the end we’re all equal, and it doesn’t matter where we come from,” Alamilla said.

In addition to acting roles, the orchestra pit was also filled with performers.

“It’s the biggest pit of orchestra we’ve ever had,” Rabideau said.

More than 2,300 audience members saw the production during eight showings.