West Side Story
Taunting between the Jets and Sharks drives the drama of 'West Side Story.' Here, the female Jets - all gussied up for the big dance - defend their turf. Paul R. Kennedy

West Side Story, the groundbreaking and enduring American musical that addresses dual passions of gang membership and forbidden young love, will open at the Irvine Barclay Theatre Friday, Nov. 14, and continue through Saturday, Nov. 22.

More than 400 UC Irvine students showed up during the first week of classes to audition for Leonard Bernstein’s masterpiece. By opening night, cast members representing the best of dance, drama and music talent in the Claire Trevor School of the Arts will have put in at least 165 rehearsal hours. Costumes, scenery and lighting are being tackled by graduate design students as part of their theses, and the 45-member orchestra outnumbers the original 1957 Broadway production.

“There’s no show with a pedigree to match West Side Story,” says director Eli Simon, drama department chair. “It has music by Leonard Bernstein, book by Arthur Laurents, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim in his Broadway debut, directed and choreographed by Jerome Robbins, and produced by Hal Prince and Robert E. Griffith.

“The musical score is unlike any other ever written for the world of musical theatre.  It presents incredible challenges for singers, dancers and actors,” Simon adds. “And the story soars. As I see it, the show is all about ownership, passion and turf. Who owns the streets? For young kids it’s not just a matter of pride, it’s a matter of insane passion. It has to lead to death. Where else could it go?”

The UCI production features choreography by Tracy Bonner, who received a master of fine arts from UCI; and musical direction by Daniel Gary Busby, drama assistant professor. The orchestra is conducted by Stephen Tucker, music assistant professor.

Show times are 8 p.m. Friday, Nov.14; Saturday, Nov. 15; Wednesday, Nov. 19; Thursday, Nov. 20; Friday, Nov. 21; and Saturday, Nov. 22. Matinees are 2 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 16, and Saturday, Nov. 22. Tickets are $28 general audiences; $25 seniors, UCI staff and faculty; and $12 UCI students and children. Advanced ticket purchase is recommended through ticketmaster.com or the Arts Box Office at 949-824-2787.