What: “West Side Story”

When: Performances at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday; additional performances at 7 p.m. Feb. 1; 3 and 7:30 p.m. Feb. 2

Where: Tower Theatre, 835 NW Wall St., Bend

Cost: $28 to $42 plus fees

Contact: towertheatre.org or 541-317-0700

Whether you’re Team Sharks or Team Jets, one thing is certain about “West Side Story”: It’s a classic.

David DaCosta listed that fact first among the reasons his company, Thoroughly Modern Productions, is staging the musical at the Tower Theatre in Bend. Created by power trio Arthur Laurents (book), Leonard Bernstein (music) and Stephen Sondheim (lyrics) and inspired by “Romeo and Juliet,” it tells the tale of young, off-limits love amid a New York gang rivalry.

“It’s a project I’ve wanted to do for a while,” DaCosta said, noting that Thoroughly Modern Productions’ fare oftentimes tends toward modern musicals such as “The Little Mermaid,” “Beauty and the Beast” and “Shrek the Musical.”

Performers who made those shows possible have been growing up right alongside TMP. Today, they’re old enough for “West Side Story” — and its more mature themes, DaCosta said.

“Because of the nature of the show itself and the characters, the age of characters … it was a show that I really wanted to do with our kids when they were old enough and prepared for this type of material,” DaCosta said. “We were ready to pull the trigger on it.”

There are race tensions, violence and death in this story about an American gang, the Jets, and their arch enemies, the Sharks, whose members are mainly Puerto Rican. It proves troublesome for both sides of the rivalry when sparks fly between Maria (played by Emma Hehn) and Tony (Christopher Wiley). Maria is the sister of Sharks leader Bernardo (Matt Vigil), while Tony is a former Jet and best friend of its leader, Riff (David Purkey). Also in the Sharks camp are Bernardo’s girlfriend, Anita (Stephanie Von Ayden), and his best friend, Chino (Christian Ramirez).

Odds are strong you’re already somewhat familiar with the show, which was first performed on Broadway in 1957 and given the film treatment in 1961. Even if you’ve never caught “West Side Story” on stage or screen, you know at least some of its songs — ear worms that include “America,” “I Feel Pretty” and “Somewhere” (the last of which has ventured so far outside the musical theater realm that it’s been covered by new wave act Devo).

TMP’s production of “West Side Story” stars a cast of 37, quite large for the Tower Theatre stage. Erik McGinnis plays Action, a lieutenant in the Jets, the white gang. This marks the 20-year-old’s fourth or fifth time in a TMP production. Like DaCosta, he notes that he and his cast mates are roughly the age of the characters they play.

“It’s a show about young people, and that’s what I love about our production,” McGinnis said. “A lot of the time ‘West Side Story’ is 25-year-olds playing 17-year-olds.”

Here, “This is teenagers playing teenagers. It’s young adults playing young adults,” he said. “It’s hard at some points because it is such strong material. And it’s deep stuff. It’s not easy, easy stuff to look at, sometimes. But I think it’s important that people of a younger age watch it and talk about it, because it’s serious material, and it is just as important and (relevant) as it was before.”

America is a more racially and culturally sensitive place than it was when “West Side Story” debuted more than 60 years ago. And as The Hollywood Reporter noted in a recent article, director Stephen Spielberg recently received pushback about his planned remake of the film during a town hall in Puerto Rico.

“We don’t want to be a controversial group,” DaCosta said. “But then in the same sense, theater is controversial. It’s supposed to be. It’s supposed to spark debate. It’s supposed to spark discussion.”

DaCosta cast with an eye on diversity, although total authenticity may be impossible in a town the size of Bend.

“I feel like we’ve appropriately cast folks, except for the Sharks-wise, in terms of there aren’t very many Puerto Rican people who live here in Bend,” he said. “That was a little bit of an issue or concern with some folks.”

Though over the age of 60, the script of “West Side Story” still undergoes changes, DaCosta said. The owners of the rights “work hand in hand with you. They are the most hands-on group of rights owners that I’ve ever worked with. … They’re constantly updating the script in order to address certain sensitivities.”

“It obviously deals with difficult subject matter all across the board,” DaCosta said. “It’s not just the racial component. It’s ‘Romeo and Juliet,’ the musical. That’s what the story is.”

On the whole, DaCosta is excited about TMP’s production of “West Side Story” with this cast, many of whom have been with TMP for five or six years.

“I’ve been able to really visibly see these kids now growing as actors. We’ve worked on that baseline developing a performer with all three disciplines in acting, dance and music,” he said. “Now these kids are really starting to understand characterization, plot and subplot, how to bring all that onto the stage and really and truly become actors.”

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