The Southern Opera Musical and Theatre Company presented Leonard Bernstein’s enduring classic “West Side Story” last week as part of The University of Southern Mississippi’s homecoming weekend festivities. The highly-anticipated show ran for two night performances and one matinee, with tickets selling well before the performances that spanned Oct.16 through 18.
“I think Southern Miss has a really strong collegiate theater program,” said Erin Blackledge, a junior political science and history double major who has attended several other shows, including on Broadway. “They’re very professional, and just as fun to go to as any professional musical show.”
“West Side Story” is an award- winning musical inspired by William Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juilet.”
The production features a book by two-time Tony award winner Arthur Laurentis. The lyrics are by Stephen Sondheim, who has garnered multiple Tony and Grammy Awards, as well as a Pulitzer Prize. The music is by Leonard Bernstein, whom musical director and producer Michael Miles deemed the “greatest American musician of the 20th century.”
The musical, set in 1950s New York, tells the tragic tale of two idealistic teens who manage to fall in love in spite of their different backgrounds and living amid violence and prejudice.
“‘West Side Story is a poignant classic for which audiences have developed very specific expectations,” said Southern Miss graduate student Ann Gabrielle Richardson in a recent press release. Richardson played the lead role of Maria and was particularly concerned with finding a way to make the character “draw in” audience members.
“I want her to invite people to be captivated and vulnerable, to move their empathy out of the chairs and onto the stage with her as she and Tony and the gangs learn how to navigate their own desires,” Richardson said.
USM’s production involved a live symphony orchestra and a 35-member cast directed by the nationally and internationally renowned Rob Mulholland. Unity among cast members was on prominent display throughout the entirety of the show.
“We can truly count on each other,” said Laura Pazos, a sophomore forensic science major who played the role of Estella. “Through medical emergencies and hair emergencies—this cast has been through it all. We truly are a team and are supportive of each other.”
Freshman vocal performance major Marcos Pires, who played the role of Chino, thoroughly enjoyed his experience in the production.
“I’ve never seen so many talented people together,” Pires said. “Being a part of it just made me realize (how) blessed I am for being able to do what I love.”
Both Pazos and Pires agree that the School of Music’s shows are a dynamic presence. They both decided to audition for “West Side Story” after seeing the production “Mary Poppins” in 2014, and Pires plans to audition for future roles. The University of Southern
Mississippi’s 2015-2016 Symphony Orchestra season lineup includes several renowned shows. In the months to come, audience members can catch “Sonic Blast” and “Holiday Choral Spectacular.” Next February, Joseph Levitt will direct Georges Bizet’s opera “Carmen,” and Anthony McGill, principal clarinetist of the New York Philharmonic, will join the symphony in “Stages of Change.” In March, USM will welcome back flutists Sir James and Lady Jeanne Galway on their third appearance with the USM symphony. The season will wrap up in April with the annual William T. Gower Concerto Competition, featuring brass, woodwind and percussion soloists from USM.