For the annual all-high school theater production, the Depot Theater chose a classic.

Beginning Thursday, June 21, the Depot Theater will curtain West Side Story that will feature 30 students in the cast with most coming from Dodge City, but also students from Ashland, Cimarron, and Hillsboro.

With this being a high school production, there will be some changes done that differs from a traditional Depot Theater production.

"The first difference obviously is that the cast is made up of all high school students," director John Stuff said. "With the anticipated crowds, we remove all the tables from the theater, so it will not be one of our traditional dinner theater productions.

"The chairs will be rearranged in stadium seating so we can accommodate and seat over 220 people as opposed to the 160 people we seat at tables.

"Since the show is set in New York City, we will be serving New York Cheesecake bites in the dining room prior to the show starting. Other than the age of the actors, patrons will not see any difference – we have created a wonderful set, are using beautiful lighting, colorful costumes, and every person who has a solo line will wear a mic so they can be easily heard."

Additionally, the West Side Story production will also feature the use of "OrchXtra," which, according to Stuff, is something the rights owner (Music Theater International) makes available to companies who rent the show.

"The entire score has been recorded by a professional orchestra and we have the ability to pick out specific parts to use, speed up or slow down tempos, edit the bars of music – which makes it really great for young voices," Stuff said. "Patrons will hear a professional orchestra accompanying our singers!"

The decision to produce West Side Story came out of the rehearsals from last year's Beauty and the Beast

"I knew this was the show to do this year," said Stuff. "West Side Story is a challenging show to do – there is some tough music and tough subject matter, but hearing the talent that we had last year, I knew the students would rise to the occasion and tackle it head on, conquer the hard music and dances, and they have.

"It has always been a favorite of mine, and with the large Hispanic population in this area, I hoped it would attract more of those students, although we went into auditions knowing we would cast the show completely color blind which is why we have a blond haired Maria and Bernardo.

"The color and racial background of the students wasn’t considered in casting – the gangs are delineated solely by the color of their costumes with the Jets in cool colors and the Sharks in warm colors."

Stuff added that with ongoing divisive issues in America, West Side Story was the perfect show to that portrays one story of what the issues could lead to.

"It is truly a 'Romeo and Juliet' story set in the 1950’s in New York’s West Side," Stuff said. "A boy and a girl from rival gangs fall in love but the world they live in will not allow them to find happiness.

"It is a tragic love story with hauntingly beautiful music written by Leonard Bernstein who would have celebrated his 100th birthday in August of this year."

Ticket prices for West Side Story have also changed for this type of production.

Tickets will be $25 for ages 19 and older and $20 for ages 18 and younger.

Doors will open at 6:30 p.m., with seating starting at 7 p.m. with the show starting at 7:30 p.m. for the evening performances.

The matinee shows on Sunday will be the doors opening at 1 p.m, seating at 1:30 p.m. and the show starting at 2 p.m.

"We are very thankful to our sponsors," Stuff said. "The Mariah Fund is underwriting our marketing and advertising expenses, the Southwest Kansas Community Credit Union is a major sponsor, and K-Martin Jewelers is creating a beautiful pendant that we will be raffling off throughout the run of the show.

"Since the rival gangs in the show are the local Jets and the immigrant Sharks, and the Sharks are from Puerto Rico, and the country of Puerto Rico is still suffering so severely from the hurricane that devastated their country, and the lovers in the show are Tony and Maria, and the hurricane that destroyed Puerto Rico was named 'Maria,' we will raise as much money as we can and send 100 percent of the proceeds to the people of Puerto Rico to help them in their recovery efforts."

West Side Story will run from June 21-24 and June 28-July 1.

To contact the writer email vmarshall@dodgeglobe.com