Skip to main content

Ensemble members note how they give their roles meaning to accurately portray ‘West Side Story’

Cast members of "West Side Story" perform in the McKay Auditorium

“West Side Story,” a production heavy with dance numbers, brawls and demanding vocals, allows the personal story of each character to shine through, said students. According to the actors, doing behind-the-scenes work, even if their respective roles do not have any lines, their characters are vital for the emotive plot of battle and romance to come to life.

Austyn Eugenio, a future BYUH student from Laie, noted how Aaron Densley, the show’s director, always says just because someone is background does not mean they are background.

“We are part of a bigger picture, and I really like that. I know people get disappointed when they don’t get lead roles, but it honestly has been very fun. I feel like I am important even though I don’t say anything.”

Eugenio added, “The story is about a Puerto Rican gang called the Sharks and a predominantly white gang called the Jets. The Jets are very low class, so they are in the same boat as the Puerto Ricans – immigrants from the '50s. Around that time, both groups weren’t treated that great.”

The Jets and the Sharks are all from the same street, explained Eugenio, which is very important to each of them. The whole story is about them battling it out for this one street, while a “Romeo and Juliet” type of story is happening between Tony, a Jet, and Maria, a Shark.

Cast members of "West Side Story" perform in the McKay Auditorium


Eugenio plays a shark called Nibbles. “He is an ensemble character, but he is a very loyal Shark member. He is all about the blade knuckle fights and standing up for his boys. He doesn’t say much, but he is one heck of a fighter.”

Alongside Eugenio, Jonathan Torio, a junior from the Philippines studying vocal performance, plays a Shark named Pepe who is second in command to the leader Bernardo. Torio agreed as a part of the ensemble, it is not only about performing, but also delivering the inner message of each character.

“It’s not all about acting and singing. It’s about what you want to give to the audience about the character you are playing. What is your purpose as an actor? It is all about how you will give life to the character for the audience.”

Lazarus Shettell, a freshman from Utah with an undecided major, plays a Jet named A-Rab. He said he implements the lessons Densley teaches while directing the cast. “I was never an actor before ‘West Side Story.’ I learned there is a lot of decision making on your end.

“You need to come in with decisions made and go all out so people can see it. I didn’t realize how little movement I was doing compared to other people.”

Cast members of "West Side Story" perform in the McKay Auditorium


Eugenio added, “There has been a lot of work put into this by the people who set up the stage and the orchestra.”

Tickets will be sold at the McKay Auditorium for the second week of shows, which run from March 5-7 at 7:30 p.m.