“West Side Story” is the first entry in Portland Ovations’ Broadway & Beyond series. Other upcoming productions include “Beauty and the Beast” in January, the Midtown Men in February, “Rock of Ages” in March and “Hair” in April.
By Bob Keyes
Feel free to pinch Addison Reid Coe anytime.
The young man from Michigan moved to New York in March. Three days later, he auditioned for the newly staged traveling revival of the Broadway musical "West Side Story."
Not only were producers impressed enough to cast him, he got the lead. Coe, 25, plays Tony in the touring production of the classic play, which comes to Portland for three shows this weekend.
"This is more than a dream come true," Coe said last week by phone. "It's outside reality."
"West Side Story" is the first entry in Portland Ovations' Broadway & Beyond series. Other shows include "Beauty and the Beast" in January, the Midtown Men in February, "Rock of Ages" in March and "Hair" in April.
Sporting music by Leonard Bernstein and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, "West Side Story" is one of the best known and most iconic shows in Broadway history. It opened in September 1957, and ran for 732 productions before heading out on the road. It's had two revivals, in 1980 and 2009.
Based on Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet," it tells the story of two lovers, Tony and Maria, who struggle to rise above the hatred and intolerance of their communities on New York's Upper West Side during the 1950s. It features rival gangs, the Jets and the Sharks, and pits Polish-Americans against newcomers from Puerto Rico.
The show includes several poignant songs and dramatic choreography. Among the songs that are part of the American musical lexicon are "Tonight," "America" and "Somewhere."
Coe grew up in a household steeped in the tradition of musical theater. His mother introduced him to "West Side" and many other classics. Being able to perform it live is beyond thrilling to him.
"I've never done this show before, and never had the opportunity to audition for this show before," he said. "I've always been in love with it, and I still can't quite believe I'm doing it."
The version coming to Portland is based on the 2009 revival of the original, which restored Jerome Robbins' Tony Award-winning choreography.
"This is as close as it will ever be to the original," Coe said. "Even our bows are the original choreography."
The 2009 revival incorporated a few lines of Spanish, which this show honors. "But even if you do not speak a word of Spanish, you can follow the story easily," Coe said. "It creates a realistic atmosphere, and gives you a better and more accurate sense of the times and the cultures."
In addition to Coe, "West Side Story" stars MaryJoanna Grisso as Maria, Michelle Alves as Anita, Theo Lencicki as Riff and Andres Acosta as Bernardo.
The touring production opened in Oct. 29 in Elmira, N.Y. The significance of that date is that it coincided with Superstorm Sandy. Just before curtain, a power surge in the auditorium spiked the microphones and lights. They had to be reprogrammed, which delayed the start of the show by about an hour.
It also set the performers on edge, because they knew they could lose power at any moment. "You never knew if the show was going to go on or not, and if it did, if your mikes could cut out or not," Coe said.
Coe began singing later than many youngsters. He played soccer growing up, and was sulking in the hallway of his high school one day after not making the soccer team. The school's choral teacher pulled him aside and said, "Maybe you should start singing."
Coe said, "I guess I could."
That decision changed the course of his life, eventually landing him in New York and -- three days later -- leading to his audition for "West Side Story."
"It's been wild," he said. "If I think about it too much, I sort of feel overwhelmed. I can't believe this is happening to me."
Staff Writer Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or:
Addison Reid Coe is Tony and MaryJoanna Grisso is Maria in the traveling production of “West Side Story” that is headed for Portland.