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Sharks and Jets do battle in West Valley City

Jun 17, 2017 01:12PM ● By Travis Barton

Sharks Kaden Garcia and Skye Garcia present their Anita, played by Kelsey Mariner, for the 2017 presentation of “West Side Story” at the Utah Cultural Celebration Center. (Keyra Kristoffersen/City Journals)

By Keyra Kristoffersen | [email protected]

The Utah Cultural Celebration Center will host a production of “West Side Story” June 19-21 in their outdoor amphitheater.


West Valley City first saw this production 20 years ago from the same director-choreographer combo of Jim Smith and Margene Conde respectively, and now they brought together a cast from all over the Salt Lake Valley to perform it once again.


“We’re a team,” said Smith. “She does her thing, and I do my thing, we work well together.”


The production also includes a live orchestra lead by Brian Manternach from the University of Utah and recipient of the 2016 Voice Pedagogy Award from the National Association of Teachers of Singing Association, of which he also serves as the president of the Northern Utah chapter and who has collaborated with Conde before.


Conde, who served on the West Valley City Arts Council for 14 years—and as chairman for two of those years— estimates she’s done 14 or 15 shows for West Valley.


“I love the energy, the original choreography by Jerome Robbins and being able to add my own artistic input. The conflict and the idealism of getting along and the love they find,” she said.


Kelsey Mariner, who plays Anita, got her bachelor’s degree from Utah Valley University in vocal performance with an emphasis on opera, but she said she has a real love for musical theater and that the role of Anita is near and dear to her heart.

“I adore her,” she said. “This is the second time I’ve played this role. She has a beautiful character arc and I get to be sassy but I also get to have this beautiful change and connection with Maria.”


Mariner also has a personal connection to her character because her own father grew up as a Puerto Rican child in New York in the 1950s. She credits her grandmother with an open attitude who, despite the deep segregation of the neighborhoods at the time, insisted her children play with everyone because she’d say, “They’re all children of God.”


“We have a diverse cast,” said Kaden Garcia, one of the Sharks.


Smith said he’s glad if the audience comes away with a greater feeling of accepting diversity.


“I think it’s more that you just have to accept everybody for who they are and care about each other, because the world needs more of that today. It makes people stop and think that there’s more to left than fighting.”


Smith just finished his 18th year teaching theater and film at Lone Peak High School, and this will be his fifth time directing “West Side Story” and is glad of the opportunity to work with a few of his students outside of the classroom.


Production and rehearsals began in May of 2017, and the whole cast is looking forward to doing the show outdoors at the amphitheater.


“We have a great production crew, like my assistant Kenichi Nakashimi, who recently graduated from the University of Utah in modern dance,” said Conde. “We knew we could do this. We have about half and half that have performed this with us before, so they’re incredible.”


Mariner has played the part of Anita before but says there are still new things for her to learn.


“That’s the great part about being able to play a role multiple times is learning things over time. This time it’s realizing that she is a mother from the beginning. Anita’s not just her best friend, she’s not just her soon-to-be sister-in-law, she’s this mother figure.”


Conde said that despite the tragedy in the story, she hopes that people will feel the message of hope that it ultimately teaches.


“That’s my life’s goal, that everybody be kind and accept everyone, no matter their religious beliefs, the color of their skin, the color of their eyes, what they believe in.”


Performances will run June 19-21 at the Utah Cultural Celebration Center at 1355 W. 3100 South in West Valley City. To purchase tickets or for information about the center, visit: