“West Side Story,” now playing at the Grand Theatre on South City Campus, is a gut-wrenching retelling of Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet.” It’s just as relevant today as it was when Arthur Laurents first dreamt up the idea in 1957.
There’s still time to get tickets to watch Tony and Maria attempt to find love even as their warring gangs, the Jets and the Sharks, spend the entirety of the play battling over turf in an epic dance- and sing-off that eventually escalates into racially motivated violence.
Dayne Cade, a University of Utah vocal performance graduate, plays lead character, Tony. Cade says he grew up with “West Side Story” and Tony was a role he always had his eye on.
“I think this story is timeless for a reason. It’s especially important now for youth to see stories like this, and to see … how truly cruel, manipulative, and devastating violence and ignorance can be,” Cade says, to highlight the devastation the characters go through. “It’s good for youth to see that violence doesn’t have a place, and when it’s there, it’s pretty disruptive.”
This sentiment is no more evident than in the latest report released by the FBI on hate crimes for 2017. The report found that the majority of these crimes were race-related, followed by religion and sexual orientation. It also showed an increase in hate crimes (in all categories except gender identity) from the previous year.
This report is especially haunting, considering “West Side Story,” with all it’s racial tensions and advocacy for love, was originally written nearly 60 years ago.
This adaptation boasts a broad range of talent from college students and recent graduates from across Utah. Fans will appreciate the diversity and representation for the story’s Puerto Rican characters, as well as the many songs and lines that are performed in Spanish.
The audience produced a standing ovation for the cast, giving shouts for fan favorites Tony, Maria (played by Barbara Camara), and Anita (played by Whitney Harris). From the spot-on vocals to the on-screen chemistry, it seems impossible that Tony and Maria had only 2-3 weeks of rehearsal.
“It was intense,” Cade says. “The role is also really challenging because it’s such a dynamic love story. It mimics ‘Romeo and Juliet’ in a two-hour period. It’s really difficult to make that instant, true love tangible and make sense — to sort of give the show a purpose for all this violence to happen around this love story.”
And while the racial tensions shape the romance that eventually ends in heartbreak, a deeper message rings through: Love is the best antidote to hate.
Cade thinks this message of hope is reflective in the show’s ending.
“Maria at the end, instead of choosing that path of violence, she does eventually choose to set the gun down,” he says. “No matter how bad it gets, we still have that choice to rise above.”
What you need to know
There are only five more showings left this week, with a 7:30 p.m. showing Wednesday through Saturday, as well as a 2 p.m. showing on Saturday. The Grand Theatre is located at 1575 S. State St. in Salt Lake City. Tickets cost $9-$23 and can be purchased through the Grand Theatre website.