A little more than one year ago, one of Creighton’s assistant music professors, Stephen Sheftz, debated over what Creighton’s 2009 musical theater production should be. After the 2008 production, “Side by Side,” by Sondheim, Sheftz said he decided on a play that was quite a bit more complicated. Sheftz said he wanted a story that was “age appropriate, timeless” and easily relatable to students.
He found all of these things and more in “West Side Story,” a musical that Sheftz later discovered had not been performed in Omaha for about 15 years.
Since that day a little over a year ago, many people have spent a lot of time and energy preparing the show for the public. Omaha will see the final result of months of hard work when West Side Story opens to the public at Creighton’s Lied Center for the Fine Arts beginning March 26, 2009.
Coincidentally, Maria Becvar, Arts & Sciences sophomore, will play the lead female role with the same name, Maria, in “West Side.” She said the book by Arthur Laurents, music by Leonard Bernstein and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim make “West Side” as close to perfection as you can get with a show.
If that is not enough, “the biggest names in Creighton are involved,” said Dan Tracy, Arts and Sciences sophomore and the lead male, Tony, in the musical. Sheftz is the musical director.
Patrick Roddy, Creighton dance instructor, is in charge of choreography and Momoro Ono, adjunct music professor, will accompany the performance.
Not all people involved in “West Side” are directly affiliated with Creighton. In fact, the director, Michele Pawk, comes directly out of Broadway. Sheftz and Pawk are longtime friends from their undergraduate work at Allegheny College, Pa. Sheftz said he asked Pawk to direct “West Side” because he knew her personality would be right for the students here.
Upon hearing from Sheftz this past summer that Pawk would be directing “West Side,” Becvar said, “I was actually kind of speechless on the phone.”
“Having someone with Michele’s performance experience and someone who has originated so many Broadway roles is really exciting,” Sheftz said. It brings a freshness to Creighton’s musical theater department, Sheftz said.
Before coming to Creighton, Pawk had directed such theatre productions as, “Picnic,” by William Inge and a new play in Manhattan, N.Y., this past fall. She has also held major roles in seven Broadway productions including “Cabaret” and “Hollywood Arms” for which she won a Tony Award.
Despite her Broadway status, Becvar said Pawk is “such a down to earth” person.
“She is incredible, not only as a director but also as a person,” Becvar said. Sheftz said it really helps students to hear about Pawk’s creative process and her insights into the show.
Pawk said she is enjoying her time at Creighton so far. Her work as “West Side” director has been “pure joy” and “everybody has worked incredibly hard.”
When actors and actresses work with the same people every day, Pawk said everything gets insulated and sometimes you don’t grow as much or stretch as much.
Pawk said she thinks people tend to rise with a fresh perspective.
A side benefit of “West Side” is that it is helping the recruitment process of incoming freshmen within Creighton’s music department.
Sheftz said a record 22 people interested in music and music theater applied for the 2009 Grace Keenan Scholarship, Creighton’s music scholarship. He said that he found some of the musical theater auditions to be impressive.
Tracy said “West Side” has been meticulously planned and said it is going to be a bang up job. Not only is 2009 the 50th anniversary of the show, but it is also currently being revived on Broadway.
Sheftz said that Westside has “one of the most exciting music scores in musical theatre history” because of Bernstein’s genius as a symphonic composer, approaching the score with many, varied orchestral colors.
Additionally, Pawk said the play is especially pertinent to the events going on in our world currently. She said it offers hope that two communities at war can come together and find a place to live at peace.
The musical will hold eight performances at 7:30 p.m. on March 26-28 and April 2-4, with Sunday afternoon performances at 2 p.m. on March 29 and April 5.
Tickets may be purchased by contacting the Creighton Box Office at 402-280-1448 or online at http://finearts.creighton.edu.
The cast of “West Side Story” is holding a special performance Wed., March 25 to raise funds for Omaha area theater stage manager Lara Marsh. Marsh was diagnosed with Cystic Fibrosis and needs a double lung transplant. 100 percent of proceeds from the show will be used to cover expenses that insurance does not cover.