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‘West Side Story’ staging at auditorium today



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"West Side Story" will show at IU Auditorium today and tomorrow at 8 p.m. This is the first time the musical has come to IU. Courtesy Photo Buy Photos



Tickets start at $20 for students and $38 for the general public. They may be purchased at iuauditorium.com or at the auditorium’s box office.

The musical, loosely based on Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet,” takes place in a neighborhood on New York City’s west side in the mid-1950s. The story centers around a rivalry between two gangs of different ethnicities — the Jets, a group of Polish-Americans, and the Sharks, a group of immigrants from Puerto Rico.

At a dance, Tony, a member of the Jets, meets Maria, a young Puerto Rican-American woman. They fall in love, but because of flaring tensions between the two groups, they must keep their relationship discreet. The two hope to run away and find a place where they can be together in peace.

Benjamin Dallas Redding — a 2013 graduate of Elon University in North Carolina — plays Riff, leader of the Jets. “West Side Story” marks his first major national tour.

 “I have never learned so much in my whole life,” he said. “It is probably one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, but one of the most rewarding.”

The original production of “West Side Story” opened on Broadway in 1957. It was directed and choreographed by Jerome Robbins, with music by Leonard Bernstein and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. Well-known songs include “Tonight,” “Maria” and “I Feel Pretty.”

“West Side Story” was nominated for six Tony Awards in 1957, including Best Musical.

In 1961, the stage show was adapted into a film starring Richard Beymer as Tony and Natalie Wood as Maria. The movie won 10 of the 11 Academy Awards for which it was nominated, including Best Picture.

“West Side Story” was revived on Broadway four times, most recently in 2009. The 2009 revival, with book by Arthur Laurents, was the basis for the current national tour.

Redding said the hardest parts of the show are life on the road and the physical exhaustion from all the dancing. The storyline can also be tough to perform each night, he added.

“It’s a very emotional piece,” he said. “When I’m in the show, I’m never thinking about it. But by the time it’s over, I want to pass out and go to bed.”

Although the show can be exhausting and emotionally taxing, Redding said he enjoys spending time with the rest of the cast. He said they’ve been together since March 8.

“The fact that we still get along so well is a huge testament to this group,” he said. “It’s been an awesome experience.”

Redding said he and his fellow actors try to keep “West Side Story” true to form with each performance.

“We try to stay as real to what these people’s lives would be like as much as we possibly can,” he said.

Redding said he enjoys being part of “West Side Story” because it’s a good show with a good story.

“It’s hard not to have a night where you’re not super proud of what you’re doing,” he said. “If I wasn’t proud of this show already, I am even more now.”

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