The Durham Performing Arts Center will present the First National Tour of the critically acclaimed 2009 Broadway revival of West Side Story, a modern retelling Elizabethan playwright and poet William Shakespeare’s timeless tragedy, Romeo and Juliet (circa 1595), on June 5-10 in its 2,700-seat, state-of-the-art theater in the American Tobacco District in downtown Durham, NC.
In West Side Story, Romeo Montague becomes Tony (played at DPAC by Ross Lekites), a reformed bad boy and former West Side gang leader of Polish descent trying to go straight; and Juliet Capulet becomes Maria (Evy Ortiz), a Puerto Rican girl newly arrived in the United States and a true innocent.
“This production is rough, real, and true to life,” claims Ross Lekites. “There is a darkness to this show that takes the audience away from ‘musical’ land and plops them into the rough streets of New York City, in a world of bigotry and hate.
“There is so much talent and passion on our stage, and the audience gets sucked right in,” says Lekites. “This show does not fail to hit home with every audience member, and they will leave the theater truly touched by this production.”
Ross Lekites at Tony
Evy Ortiz as Maria
Drew Foster as Riff
German Santiago as Bernardo
Michelle Aravena as Anita
In addition to Ross Lekites as Tony and Evy Ortiz as Maria, the West Side Story tour cast includes Drew Foster as Tony’s best friend Riff, the leader of the Jets; German Santiago as Maria’s older brother and Riff’s mortal enemy Bernardo, the leader of the Sharks; and Michelle Aravena as Bernardo’s girlfriend Anita. The adults on hand for the gang rumbles in the urban jungle include John O’Creagh as kindly candy store owner and Tony’s employer Doc, Wally Dunn as Officer Krupke, Mike Boland as Detective Schrank, and Stephen DeRosa as a nervous chaperone named Glad Hand.
Ross Lekites notes, “I joined the company last July as the offstage cover for last year’s Tony. The audition was quick, but very to the point. They knew what they wanted, and I knew that I wanted it more than anything I had ever auditioned for. I was lucky enough to take over the role in October, and I have been with the company since.”
He adds, “This is my first time playing Tony, and my first time performing in West Side Story. I am very lucky to be a part of my dream show and role in such an amazing production. The level of talent is unbelievable and the show itself is undoubtedly the most beautiful piece of theater.”
The Jets’ motley crew includes Jon Drake as Action, Casey Garvin as Diesel, Nathan Keen as Big Deal, Harris Milgrim as Snowboy, Christopher Rice as Baby John, and Clay Thomson as A-rab. The Jets’ girls include Kristen Paulicelli as Graziella, Skye Mattox or Christie Portera as Velma, Beth Crandall or Laura Irion as Zaza, Jessica Swesey as Mugsy, and Alexandra Frohlinger as the Jet’s tomboy sidekick Anybodys.
The Sharks include Jay Garcia as Bernardo’s best friend Chino, Dean Andre de Luna as Inca, Eric Anthony Johnson as Frederico, Waldemar Quinones-Villanueva as Tio, Michael Scirrotto as Pepe, and Jeffrey C. Sousa as Bolo. The Sharks’ girls include Gizel Jimenez as Rosalia, Lori Ann Ferreri as Consuela, Kathryn Lin Terza as Fernanda, Alicia Charles as Alicia, Kirstin Tucker as Hotsie, and Dani Spieler as Bebecita. And Maya Flock, dance captain Ryan Ghysels, Tim Hausmann, Nicole Hellman, Patrick Ortiz, and Alexandra Blake Redelico are swings.
Originally conceived by Jerome Robbins, who transposed Shakespeare’s heartbreaking tale of star-crossed lovers and their feuding families, from Verona, Italy, during the Renaissance, to New York City’s West Side in the summer of 1957, West Side Story boasts a brilliant book by Arthur Laurents and magnificent score by veteran composer Leonard Bernstein and novice lyricist Stephen Sondheimthat added “Something’s Coming,” “Maria,” “Tonight,” “America,” “I Feel Pretty,” and “Somewhere (There’s a Place for Us)” to the show-tune repertoire.
West Side Story made its Broadway debut, directed and choreographed by Jerome Robbins, on Sept. 26, 1957 at the Winter Garden Theatre, and later transferred to the Broadway Theatre and then back to the Winter Garden Theatre. The show played a combined total of 732 performances before closing on June 27, 1959.
The original Broadway production of West Side Story starred Mickey Calin as Riff, Larry Kert as Tony, Carol Lawrence as Maria, Ken Le Roy as Bernardo, and Chita Rivera as Anita. It won the 1958 Tony Awards® for Best Choreography (Jerome Robbins) and Best Scenic Design (Oliver Smith), and also received Tony nominations for Best Musical, Best Featured Actress in a Musical (Carol Lawrence), Best Costume Design (Irene Sharaff), and Conductor and Musical Director (Max Goberman).
The 1961 motion-picture version of West Side Story, co-directed by Jerome Robbins and Robert Wise from an Oscar®-nominated screenplay by Ernest Lehman, starred Natalie Wood as Maria, Richard Beymer as Tony, Russ Tamblyn as Riff, Rita Moreno as Anita, and George Chakiris as Bernardo. It won ten 1962 Academy Awards®, including the Oscars for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor in a Supporting Role (George Chakiris), and Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Rita Moreno) — plus the 1962 Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture — Musical and a 1962 Grammy® for Best Soundtrack Album or Recording of Original Cast from Motion Picture or Television. In 1997, West Side Story was added to the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress.
There have been four revivals of West Side Story on Broadway. The most recent Broadway revival, on which the current national tour is based, debuted on March 19, 2009 at Palace Theatre, where it played for 748 performances before closing on Jan. 2, 2011. Directed by Arthur Laurents, with Jerome Robbins’ original choreography reproduced by Joey McKneely, the latest edition of West Side Story also features new Spanish dialogue and lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda to add authenticity.
This Broadway revival won the 2009 Tony Award® for Best Featured Actress in a Musical (Karen Olivo as Anita), and was nominated for three other Tonys, including Best Revival of a Musical, Best Actress in a Musical (Josefina Scaglione as Maria), and Best Lighting Design of a Musical (Howell Binkley). The revival also won the 2010 Grammy® Award for Best Musical Show Album.
In addition to director Arthur Laurents, reproduction choreographer Joey McKneely, and translator Lin-Manuel Miranda, the creative team for the current tour of West Side Story includes associate director David Saint, associate choreographer Lori Werner, music director Patrick Vaccariello, technical director Brian Lynch, scenic designer James Youmans, lighting designer Howell Binkley, costume designer David C. Woolard, hair designer Mark Adam Rampmeyer, sound designer Dan Moses Schreier, and stage manager Joshua Halperin.
The show’s producers include Kevin McCollum; James L. Nederlander; Jeffrey Seller; Terry Allen Kramer; Sander Jacobs; Freddy DeMann; Roy Furman; Jill Furman Willis; Robyn Goodman and Walt Grossman; Hal Luftig; Roy Miller; The Weinstein Company; and Broadway Across America — plus associate producer LAMS Productions.
West Side Story leading man Ross Lekites, who plays Tony, was born in Lowell, Massachusetts, but moved around a lot as a kid. At one time or another, he called Thousand Oaks, California; South Carolina; Pennsylvania; and Kentucky home.
“I’m a late bloomer when it comes to theater,” Lekites confesses. “I went to see a production of Children of Eden at my high school during my freshman year, and I fell in love. I auditioned soon after for Into the Woods my sophomore year and have been hooked ever since.”
Lekites says he learned a great deal about theater from his high school drama teacher, William P. Bradford. After receiving his high school diploma, he spent a semester at Emerson College in Boston before enrolling at Point Park University in Pittsburgh, PA, where he earned his B.A. degree in musical theater.
After college graduation, Lekites moved to New York City. He says, “My first big gig was playing Joseph in a mini-national tour of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. I was new to the city and hadn’t had any luck booking a job, and this started what I feel has been a successful career. I am very grateful for that first big break.
“I have also been able to tour with the Radio City Rockettes for the past few years, and I hope to continue,” Lekites says. “They have become a sort of family to me over the years.”
Ross Lekites says, “[Tony] is the greatest role I have played [to date]. There is no show or score in my mind that comes close to this. Being able to sing songs like ‘Something’s Coming’ and ‘Maria’ every night is a dream come true.”
He adds, “At the top of the show, we see Tony dealing with something that even he can’t describe. There is a change in him that he can’t pinpoint. Something is going to change in his future, and he might not know what it is, but he welcomes the challenge.
“As I kid,” Lekites notes, “I moved a great deal. I didn’t know where I might be two years down the road, but I had to welcome that feeling. I also had to become optimistic about all of these moves, because either way, they were happening. I use all of these familiar feelings every night playing Tony, and I am grateful that I have these life experiences to pull from.”
DPAC CONTENT ADVISORY: “This show has racially-charged dialogue, sexual situations and violence that is true to the story and plot. Parental guidance is suggested. Everyone must have a ticket regardless of age; children under 5 will not be admitted to the theatre.”
SECOND OPINION: May 20, 2012 BroadwayWorld.com Raleigh Interview with Joey McKneely, conducted by Larissa Mount: http://raleigh.broadwayworld.com/article/BWW-Interviews-WEST-SIDE-STORY-Comes-to-DPAC-in-June-The-Creative-Process-with-Joey-McKneely-20120520; and Oct. 3, 2011 Playbill.com preview by Andrew Gans: http://www.playbill.com/news/article/155160-Ross-Lekites-and-Evy-Ortiz-Are-New-Lovers-of-West-Side-Story-Tour.
The Durham Performing Arts Center presents WEST SIDE STORY at 7:30 p.m. June 5-7, 8 p.m. June 8, 2 and 8 p.m. June 9, and 1 and 6:30 p.m. June 10 at DPAC, in the American Tobacco District, at 123 Vivian St., Durham, North Carolina 27701.
TICKETS: $42.50-$79.75 (including fees), except $11 Student Rush Tickets (plus service fee if purchased online), located on Row P of the Balcony.
DPAC Box Office: 919-680-ARTS (2787), firstname.lastname@example.org, or http://www.dpacnc.com/events/how_to_buy_tickets.
Ticketmaster: 800-745-3000 or http://www.ticketmaster.com/venueartist/115558/844724/.
GROUP RATES (10+ tickets): 919/281-0587, Groups@DPACnc.com, or http://www.dpacnc.com/events/group_services.
VIDEO PREVIEWS: http://www.broadwaywestsidestory.com/video.html.
The Musical: http://www.westsidestory.com/ (official website), http://www.mtishows.com/show_detail.asp?showid=000077 (Music Theatre International), http://www.sondheimguide.com/wss.html (Stephen Sondheim Reference Guide), http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/West_Side_Story (Wikipedia), and http://www.ibdb.com/show.php?ID=9232 (Internet Broadway Database).
The Script: http://books.google.com/ (Google Books).
The Tour: http://www.broadwaywestsidestory.com/ (official website).
The Film: http://www.mgm.com/view/movie/2130/West-Side-Story/ (official web page), http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/West_Side_Story_(film) (Wikipedia), and http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0055614/ (Internet Movie Database).
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