Valley Youth Theatre’s production of “West Side Story,” which runs through Aug. 24 at Herberger Theater, is also a Catholic school theater story of sorts.
Three Catholic school alumni — two with lead roles in their debut production with VYT — and five current Catholic high school students are among its 40-person cast.
Janice Robillard, theatre director at Xavier College Preparatory, is not surprised that Catholic school students end up in productions and lead roles outside of school. She said there is a good relationship between Catholic campuses and Valley theatres. Plus, she sees the students as well-prepared.
“Students who attend Catholic schools exhibit confidence, poise, and grace wherever they go, and I believe they possess good work habits, values, and strong skills, all very valuable qualities,” Robillard said.
Megan Farinella, a 2013 graduate of Seton Catholic Preparatory in Chandler, is an example. She appeared in five musicals with various theatres last year alone.
“When performances would start for one show, I would be in rehearsal for the next show,” Farinella said.
She, along with Sedona Urias-Ramonett, both who have lead roles in VYT’s “West Side Story,” both want to pursue acting.
Urias-Ramonett graduated from Xavier in May and now studies at the Herberger School of Music in the Barrett Honors College at Arizona State University. “West Side Story” is her first performance outside of school shows and Urias-Ramonett managed to get cast as Maria, who falls in love with the leader of her brother’s rival gang leader.
“I got really lucky and really blessed,” Urias-Ramonett said of her first leading role.
She credited the dedication of teachers at Xavier. She was in four Xavier productions in her junior year and four more as a senior. Urias-Ramonett applauded the one-on-one time at Xavier for helping her develop her acting skills.
“We were taught how theater works in the adult world,” Urias-Ramonett told The Catholic Sun shortly before her first day of theater class at ASU.
She has also appeared in Brophy productions and in St. Theresa productions as early as third grade. Her favorite role was as Fanny Dashwood in “Sense and Sensibility” at Xavier.
“She’s really mean and she’s very money-oriented,” Urias-Ramonett said. “In high school I played quite mean characters.”
Her portrayals were convincing enough to earn her National Youth Arts nominations for supporting actress in “Cursing Mummies” last year and best featured actress for “Once on This Island” this year.
More on “West Side Story”
This week, she’s excited to play Maria in “West Side Story,” a sweet and innocent girl with a lot of love in her heart, but little understanding of how the world around her works, Urias-Ramonett said.
Farinella plays Anita — whose brother is dating Maria — and describes her character as a salty person who is extraordinarily confident. Unlike Farinella, she said, who is quirkier.
It was theater at Seton and beyond that helped her gain confidence behind her actions. Even something as minor as how an actor’s feet are positioned can make a world of difference, she said. Theater gave her a way to portray characters vastly different from her own persona.
Other Catholic school actors
Their “West Side Story” characters are listed in parentheses.
- Brophy alum: Jacob Browning (A-rab)
- Seton student:Vicent Pugliese (Snow Boy)
- Xavier student: Payton Bioletto (Francisca), Sophia Deyden (Rosalia), Liz Grannis (Pauline), Cindy McClain (Nannette)
“I always write music to let my emotions out so I don’t bombard everyone. Theater lets me take those [emotions] a step further,” Farinella said.
Farinella was in five musicals and one play at Seton, but always had ensembles and “little character moments” until landing the role of Bella in “Rags.” Looking back, she was grateful for that succession of roles.
“If I had just gotten lead roles at Seton, I never would have gone outside of it because I would been satisfied,” Farinella said. “God put me in that place to keep me more humbled.”
She found herself landing a variety of roles — including Anita in Actors Youth Theatre’s version of “West Side Story” — in several community theaters. She saw it as a way of earning her way back up from her early elementary days at St. Timothy in Mesa.
Farinella said she is lucky to have made it into Valley Youth Theatre. The accounting major at Grand Canyon University has her eyes set on Broadway.
Robillard, who launched Xavier’s new theatre program 13 years ago, has nearly tripled the original drama curriculum. She sees theatre and other creative arts as a way to share God-given talents with others.
“Having God as our center and celebrating His presence in our lives gives us not only joy, but the confidence and desire to share what we love to do with others,” Robillard said. “What better way to share with others than in the theatre. Theatre is an expression and celebration of the human spirit and what it means to be human.”