Variety spices up the cast for GCU’s ‘West Side Story’

March 28, 2017 / by / 0 Comment

By Laurie Merrill
GCU News Bureau

Caleb Raney, a Christian Studies major, auditioned for Grand Canyon University’s production of “West Side Story” on a whim.

“I tried out literally because I’ve been to Ethington Theatre plays since I was a freshmen, and it was on my bucket list,” said Raney, a junior. “I’ve never before acted in a show.”

Caleb Raney, a junior, decided to audition and wound up getting a part as a Shark.

More than 240 people auditioned for about 40 roles in the musical, which was sold out well before its opening Friday in Ethington Theatre, Raney said. But he made the cut.

“I’m this guy named Pepe,” he said.

Freshman Madison Cichon is majoring in Government with an Emphasis in Legal Studies and minoring in Theatre and Drama.

Equipped with what she called “basic training” in drama, she too decided to audition — and was thrilled to be cast in the role of Maria, the female lead.

The cast of the College of Fine Arts and Production musical resembles New York City, the city in which the story is set, said the assistant director, junior James Coblentz.

“We have such a diverse cast,” Coblentz said.

Junior James Coblentz is assistant director of the musical.

This is portrayed not only by the various majors but also by age and experience level, Coblentz said. Among the performers are 10 freshmen, 11 sophomores, 12 juniors and six seniors.

“It’s kind of like a big melting pot,” said sophomore Abby Neighbors, who is working toward a double major in Vocal and Dancing Performance.

She plays Gabriella, the girlfriend of Riff, who is the head of the Jets street gang.

West Side Story is the timeless “Romeo and Juliet”-themed musical about the fatal war between the Sharks, a Puerto Rican gang, and the Jets, who are white.

There’s a point in the show when Bernardo, the leader of the Sharks, and Riff are going to fight.

“As soon as it happens, it’s an all-out brawl,” Raney said. “Now they all have to grow up in an instant.”

Raney said joining the cast quickly has become a highlight of a GCU experience already filled with his various roles on campus: head life leader, team leader in admissions and a leader of Bible studies.

It’s a show in which mood, feelings and music are reflected in sophisticated dance numbers.

The dance-off in the gym is a heart-pounding, all-cast number that foreshadows future events. The Sharks and the Jets take turns one-upping each other with dance moves.

Freshman Madison Cichon (left) plays Maria, and sophomore Abby Neighbors plays Gabriella.

“It’s war,” Coblentz said. “It’s how they fight before they actually use their fists.”

At heart, it’s a love story, Cichon said, “but it’s a dark one. A tragedy.”

The choreography for the musical, which first opened on Broadway in 1957, is by Jerome Robbins, the music by Leonard Bernstein, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and book by Arthur Laurents.

The score includes “Maria,” “I Feel Pretty,” “America,” “Tonight, “Gee Officer Krupke” among other favorites.

Coblentz has fond memories of her family listening to the soundtrack in the car.

“No show has ever sold out so fast,” Coblentz said. “The popularity of the show is unparalleled. There’s no show like ‘West Side Story,’” she said.

The play sold out about four weeks ago, but individual tickets will be available at the performances.


First week: 7:30 p.m. Friday, March 31 and Saturday, April 1, and 2 p.m. Sunday, April 2

Second week: 7:30 p.m. Friday, April 7 and Saturday, April 8,and 2 p.m. Sunday, April 9

Featured cast:

Tony: Preston MacDonald
Maria: Cichon
Riff: Chesney Thompson
Bernardo: Javaughn Iversen
Anita: Tarnim Bybee
Action: Kaleb Burris
Officer Krupke: Logan Barrett


Director:  Claude Pensis
Musical Director: Mark Fearey
Choreography restaged by Susannah Keita
Scenic Designer/Properties Designer: William Symington 
Lighting Designer: Pensis
Costume Designer: Nola Yergen
Hair and Makeup Designer: Kay Gray
Sound Designer: Stacee Martinez
Dramaturg: Camryn McCullers

Featured production staff: 

Stage Manager: Becca Mae Owen
Assistant Stage Manager/Deck Manager: Jeremy Carr
Assistant Stage Manager/Assistant Scenic Designer: Jennifer Lang
Assistant Stage Manager: Mandy Tompkins
Assistant Director/Administrative Assistant: Coblentz

Contact Laurie Merrill at (602) 639-6511 or


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