Three USC schools collaborate to produce ‘West Side Story’

Starting Thursday, the USC School of Dramatic Arts will be presenting its rendition of the acclaimed West Side Story, a famed musical uncovering some of the most poignant themes of youth, such as lust, change, vengeance, sacrifice and, most importantly, love. Composed by the legendary Leonard Bernstein and written by Arthur Laurents, the musical originally debuted in 1957, and has been one of the most widely celebrated musicals ever since. Thursday marks the beginning of a series of 10 performances at the Bing Theatre, which will culminate in a final performance on April 8.

Photo courtesy of USC Visions and Voices.

This production is rather significant, as it represents a collaboration between the several art departments here at USC, including the Thornton School of Music, the School of Dramatic Arts and the Glorya Kaufman School of Dance. The scale of the production represents a rather notable alliance not only on campus, but also for those in the arts community looking to expand their network.

“It’s been great to get to know different people within the arts here at USC that I wouldn’t have been able to communicate prior to working on this production,” said Lenai Wilkerson, a junior majoring in dance. Wilkerson plays Fransisca in West Side Story. “Now I have more people that I can collaborate with here at USC and in the professional world after I graduate, which is amazing.”

The show is directed by Ken Cazan, an associate professor of vocal arts & opera in Thornton. Cazan brings strong experience to West Side Story, having directed more than 160 shows throughout his career, including Thomas Morse’s Frau Schindler, Britten’s Gloriana and Handel’s Agrippina, to name a few.

The show stars Theodosia Roussos as Maria, Tim Frangos as Tony, Juan Miguel Posada Penagos as Bernardo and Natalia Leyva as Anita, as well as many other students at USC.

“Everyone has been so professional,” Wilkerson said. “We all became friends throughout the process, which is I think can be rare in all of the highly rigorous and competitive art forms that we all have chosen.”

The production is also fortunate to have the musical direction of Parmer Fuller, an adjunct assistant professor in Thornton with noted expertise in musical theatre. Fuller has spent her career conducting a variety of orchestras, one of which includes the Young Musicians Foundation Orchestra at an event honoring Leonard Bernstein, who fittingly happens to be the composer of West Side Story.

The show was staged and choreographed by Danny Pelzig, an award-winning director and choreographer who has worked on countless productions, some of which include Moisès Kaufman’s 33 Variations and the Tony Award- winning A Year With Frog and Toad, both of which appeared on Broadway.

“We have some top people in the game working with us,” Wilkerson said. “We have been aided greatly by some talented professionals among the faculty at USC.”

The production will be performed at the Bing Theatre, running from Thursday to April 8. Tickets are $10 for faculty and staff, $12 for seniors and $20 for the general public; they can be purchased at the USC Ticket Office or on the School of Dramatic Arts’ website.