It’s based on a play by William Shakespeare. It was conceived of and choreographed by Jerome Robbins and features music by Leonard Bernstein, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and book by Arthur Laurents. Since its Broadway debut in 1957, it’s become one of the most beloved musicals in the American lexicon.
And now the national touring production of “West Side Story” is in Spokane starting tonight as part of the Best of Broadway series. The story, a loose retelling of “Romeo and Juliet,” centers on rival teenage gangs from New York City’s West Side. The Sharks are made up of the neighborhood Puerto Ricans, while the Jets are Polish-American. When an ex-Jet, Tony, meets and falls in love with Maria, the sister of a Shark, sparks fly and tragedy ensues.
Not before, of course, there’s lots of singing and dancing.
For Addison Coe, who plays Tony, walking into such a legendary show has been a dream. He learned about the auditions just a few days after he moved to New York City. When he got the lead in his first national touring show, he felt some pressure, he said in a recent phone interview.
“Now that I’ve been doing it for awhile, things have loosened up. As far as scenes go, the show has become to us very much like a swing machine, where it’s smooth. You get to play with things here and there, but it stays the same. It’s a lot of fun. A lot, a lot, a lot, a lot of fun.”
That was four “a lots,” right?
“A lot, a lot, a lot,” he added with a laugh. “It’s been great.”
Coe said he and his fellow cast members are well aware that people have probably seen the Oscar-winning movie of “West Side Story.” Or maybe they saw it play on Broadway. Or in their community theater. Or even the neighborhood high school. This production is based on the 2009 Broadway revival Laurents staged, the version that won a Grammy Award for best musical show album, and as such has a more current feel.
“We have all the Broadway lighting cues that they did for the last revival, which changed things up,” Coe said. “It made things a little more realistic because the show takes place at night; almost 90 percent is at night, if not all of it. We made it a little more realistic. There’s some Spanish added so the Sharks will have some Spanish lines sprinkled in with English lines.”
The show is directed by David Saints, who is the executor of Laurents’ estate. (Laurents died in 2011.)
“He has access to all these letters written back and forth while the show was being written, so we have the inside story,” he said. “It gives us characters we know where they’ve come from absolutely.”
This level of background is helpful to the actors, he said, because it helps them make the characters more specific and more believable.
“That’s what separates community theater from a show like this,” he said, “the specificity, and the talent level.”
The talent level of this cast means something, Coe said.
“Our biggest compliment is that this is the most well-rounded ‘West Side Story’ that they’ve ever seen, with the best cast people for each role,” he said. “Everybody fits like a glove in the role they’re cast in.”