Orpheus Project Artistic Director William Todd Hunt has wanted to bring a production of “West Side Story” to Juneau for years.
“We’ve never really gotten past the themes that it looks at of racism, and how love can overcome that, and how tragedy can actually bring people together, too,” he said. “It’s timely — but it’s always timely.”
Those who may not be familiar with “West Side Story” are likely familiar with its storyline anyway. It’s an adapted version of Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet,” set in New York City in the 1950s. Instead of the Capulets and Montagues, the rivalry is between two rival gangs, the Sharks and the Jets. The Sharks are Puerto Rican, and the Jets are white.
Hunt’s main reason for wanting to put on “West Side Story” in town, though, is the music.
“The music is completely fantastic,” he said. “As far as musical theatre goes specifically, it’s at the top of the heap … I see it just as one of these perfect pieces.”
The musical is The Orpheus Project’s biggest budget production yet. Hunt estimates around 70 people are involved overall, including 32 musicians in the Amalga Chamber Orchestra, 28 cast members who will act, sing and dance, and several others.
“Finding people who were really committed to the project was actually really easy,” Hunt said.
Hali Duran, the choreographer, has been “instrumental” in making it happen, Hunt said — she was the first person who committed to the project, and as choreographer, has “in many ways, the biggest role in the show.”
She’s reconstructed Jerome Robbins’ original choreography from the 1957 Broadway production. The Orpheus Project has also partnered with Juneau Dance Theatre for the dance element of the show.
While dance is an “enormous” part of the show, “the music, for me, is why we chose to do it,” Hunt said. “Other people have reasons (of their own to want to).”
“The story is wonderful,” Hunt said. “It’s essentially ‘Romeo and Juliet.’ What could be more perfect a story than that?”
The play runs Saturday, Feb. 25 at 7:30 p.m.; Sunday, Feb. 26 at 3 p.m.; Friday, March 3 at 7:30 p.m.; and Saturday, March 4 at 7:30 p.m. There’s a post-show dialogue with directors and cast after the Sunday, Feb. 26 show. The Orpheus Project was formerly known as Opera-to-Go. They put on about one production a year, and work with many other local musical and artistic organizations on those organizations’ production.
Tickets are available at the JACC, www.OrpheusProject.org, and Hearthside Books.
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