Alumni Face Off in West Side Story Revival

Published: March 02, 2015 | Author: Tommy Gugino | Read Time: 4 minutes

Rhett Guter (center) in Chicago's West Side StoryThe infamous battle between the Jets and the Sharks is once again fought, but this time two Southern Utah University alumni are on opposite sides of the fight when Chicago's Drury Lane Theater's stages the revival of West Side Story and both are winning thunderous applauses for their performances.

Rhett Guter, a theatre and dance graduate in 2010, plays Riff — the Jet’s leader — along with his lead role has choreographed the entire show. Acting on the opposing side of the line is Lillian Castillo, a theatre and dance student in 2008, who plays Rosalia, a leading Shark.

The classic theatre tale of West Side Story paints a tragic picture that was inspired by the timeless story of Romeo and Juliet, of two star-crossed lovers in New York City’s west side in the 1950s. And through the staged duels, the production is receiving rave reviews such as "great acting, spectacular dance and voices that make the words dance into your minds, hearts and souls!" by Around the Town Chicago and “grand-scale, emotionally wrenching production” by the Chicago Sun Times.

Chicago audiences are now seeing the heralded choreography of Guter but long before the Windy City could applaud him Guter was dancing across SUU stages, his favorite being The Wizard of Oz as the Scarecrow.

He said of that performance, “That was the first show I choreographed, and the last show I did at SUU. But really it was the people that I worked with, it was such a great group of theatre artists and that's what it's all about.”

Lillian Castillo (front left) stars in Chicago's West Side Story

Mirroring Guter’s remarks, Castillo went on to say about her stage time at SUU, “The whole experience, from beginning to end, was so amazing.”

With a role in SUU’s production of Our

Country’s Good, Castillo played Duckling Smith, a role she excited stated, “We all knew we were a part of something special that made us work that much harder. We also got to remount the show months later for the American College Theater Festival, which was an honor.”

With both alumni now performing on this Chicago stage, each lauds their first stage as the launch pad to their professional careers. Guter has since toured as a leading character with several regional companies, especially winning high prizes as Harry Beaton in Brigadoon at Chicago’s Goodman Theatre. Locally Guter was the star of Utah Shakespeare Festival’s Peter and the Starcatchers, and said it was the University’s performing arts variety that opened doors for him in the professional world.

“The great thing about SUU was they never tried to put me in a box. I wasn't just an actor, or just a dancer; I was encouraged to study theatre, dance and voice, as well as the technical aspects of theatre,” stated Guter. “I also benefited greatly from SUU's relationship with the Utah Shakespeare Festival. I was training during the school year, and on stage with professionals in the summer. There's no better combo.”

Since leaving SUU’s College of Performing & Visual Arts, Castillo was also heralded in her performance of Tracy Turnblad in Hairspray at the Arkansas Repertory Theatre. But before she could say good morning to Baltimore, Castillo stated she had to the take time to hone her skills.

“SUU taught me that you have to be as prepared as you can be. You have to hone your skills and keep them sharp. And most importantly, you can be the most talented person in the world, but if you don’t put yourself out there you’ll never succeed,” Castillo explained. “Success doesn’t happen by itself, it needs you to try and keep trying and try again.”

During their time on SUU’s stages and classrooms, Kay Anderson, associate professor of dance, taught both actors in a variety of tap, modern, improvisation and dance composition courses and he said of his time with Guter, “In my dance composition class Rhett always choreographed studies that explored unique gesture, many times narrative, funny, poignant and pushing boundaries. He was a natural on stage, audience members always commented on his dynamic personality, wonderful technique and stage presence.”

Both are appearing in Drury Lane Theatre’s production now through March 29.  

Photo credit: First photo, Rhett Guter (center) in his self-choreographed dance with Drury Lane Theatre's production of West Side Story. Second photo, Lillian Castillo (front left) in her performance of "I Feel Pretty" in Drury Lane Theatre's production of West Side Story. 

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