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'West Side Story's' Maria Talks to CultureMob


The touring Broadway play West Side Story arrives in Seattle at The Paramount Theatre Tuesday – Sunday Jan. 10th – 15th and has dates in many more cities this year (list below).

Set in New York City during the mid-1950s this American musical is based loosely on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Two teenage gangs symbolically spar off  musically, while a romance between Tony (of the Jets) and Maria (The Sharks) blossoms secretly. With classic songs including, ‘Maria’, ‘Somewhere’, and ‘I Feel Pretty’ the play was originally nominated for five Tony Awards and has found continued success and popularity for more than fifty years.

This version of West Side Story won the 2010 Grammy Award for Best Musical Show Album.

The role of Maria is being played by Evy Ortiz, who was born and raised in New York.

Gizel Jimenez, Kathryn Lin Terza, Evy Ortiz and Lori Ann Ferreri. © Carol Rosegg 2011

AH: You’ve had the opportunity to be cast in a number of plays including The Fantasticks, A Grand Night for Singing, and Romeo and Juliet. Can you tell me about how close to your heart the character of Maria is?

Evy Ortiz: Very close. It’s one of the iconic roles for women in musical theater. My voice and look was always right for it. And being Puerto Rican, I have a special connection to the character.

AH: How do you see Maria, and how does she compare to the real Evy Ortiz?

EO: I see Maria as a dreamer, craving for something more in life, but she’s not sure exactly what it is or how it will come. But she’s also a realist when it comes to the relationship with Tony. That’s why she makes the decisions she does… she tries to make the relationship work in the real world. I’m a bit of a dreamer too and know what it feels like to want more of something. That’s what I try to bring to the character and never let her be passive.

AH: The show has been playing for more than 50 years in a vast amount of venues, and Marias. What are you bringing to the role that’s uniquely your own?

EO: I see Maria as a strong girl even if she is young and inexperienced. I’ve tried to not make her just a “sweet ingenue”. I try to bring a feistiness along with the innocence, and she’s very impulsive when it comes to Tony. As long as I bring myself to the role, I’ll be unique in my portrayal.

AH: Is there anything special you do to get into the role before a performance?

Evy Ortiz.

EM: I listen to different music, depending on what my mood is that day. Somedays I’ll listen to my favorite singers to get vocally inspired or just some dance music to get me excited for the show. Maria enters the show very excited for the dance so I need to get into that place before the show.

AH: What’s life like on the road for a show such as this?

EO: Our company manager is great at making it as smooth as possible. With a role like this sometimes it is tough because I have to be very careful with my voice and rest a lot on our downtime. But it pays off in the performance.

AH: What do you enjoy the very most about traveling across the US in this role?

EO: Seeing the different cities, some of which I never would have gone to on my own. And singing in all the different theaters around the country.

AH: What do you miss most while being on the road?

EO: I miss from my life at home, I miss my family and friends, and my boyfriend.

For National Tour Dates, which include stops in San Jose, Sacramento, Des Moines, St. Louis, Cincinnati, Ottawa, Hershey, Philadelphia, Milwaukee, Columbus, Appleton, Newark, Toronto, and Durham, check out the website for West Side Story.

Original work created by:
Book by Arthur Laurents *
Music by Leonard Bernstein
Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Conception and choreography by Jerome Robbins

*Arthur Laurents died last year at the age of 93. The New York Times wrote a wonderful article about him here.