KOKOMO, Ind. — Get ready to rumble, as Indiana University Kokomo presents Leonard Bernstein’s iconic West Side Story, March 29 to 31.
The musical tells the story of warring street gangs, the Jets and the Sharks, whose battle for turf is complicated when Tony, one of the Jets, and Maria, younger sister of the Sharks’ leader, fall in love.
The production also honors the 100th anniversary of the birth of its composer, as part of Leonard Bernstein at 100,” a two-year global celebration of the life and career of the 20th century cultural giant. The celebration features more than 5,000 events on six continents.
“It’s a neat time to perform this musical, to be part of this larger celebration,” said Wendy Grice, lecturer in music, who co-directs with husband Garry Grice, a professional stage director.
First produced in 1957, Grice says the show is a classic for its stunning music, intricate choreography, and compelling love story.
“You have a story that is timeless, of the two who fall in love who should not, and tragedy,” she said. “While we’re setting it in the 1960s, the bigotry, the gangs, everything happening on the stage is still happening now. It’s not dated.”
The show features the largest cast in recent musicals, and some of the most difficult choreography and music students have had to learn. Grice noted that all productions must use the original choreography by Jerome Kern, which has been a challenge for the performers. While the campus dance team is part of the show, the majority of the cast are not dancers.
“As part of their education, we try to pick a musical that has a book that is really good, so they have complicated, interesting characters to play,” she said. “We pick something with challenging music, so they are learning good music. We have four students playing in the orchestra, learning difficult music alongside professional musicians. We are growing them as performers. I can already see the impact it’s having on the kids.”
Senior Zack Myers, who plays Jets leader Riff, said with the singing, dancing, and acting, “you get a good mix of different forms of art,” which makes West Side Story an audience favorite.
“It’s a classic, it’s something a lot of people are familiar with, and has an easy story to follow, he said.
Performances are at 7 p.m. Friday, March 29 and Saturday, March 30, and 3 p.m. Sunday, March 31 in Havens Auditorium. General admission tickets are $10, $5 for children 7 to 12, and free to children 6 and younger. Group rates are available. For more information contact Wendy Grice at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Indiana University Kokomo serves north central Indiana.