Michelle Alves was born and raised in Puerto Rico, and when she steps onto the Granada stage in the role of Anita in West Side Story this week, the audience will be seeing a performer who shares not only the background of her character but also her character’s dream.
“I’ve wanted to play this role since I was 5 years old,” Alves said via phone last week, “and in order to pursue it, I had to leave my family and come to America, as well, so I really identify with Anita.” For those who don’t know every word, note, and dance move of this classic musical that’s based on Romeo and Juliet, Anita is the best friend of Maria, the Juliet figure; and her boyfriend Bernardo, who is Maria’s brother, plays a variation of Shakespeare’s character Tybalt. In other words, Anita bears some of the hardest blows in West Side Story, but she’s sassy, clever, and irrepressible, as well. “Anita is sarcastic but lovable,” says Alves. “She’s a powerful woman, full of love and passion, and she travels a big journey in the course of the show, all the way from very high spirits in Act One to great suffering in Act Two.” This is Alves’s second national tour of West Side Story; she’ll be joined onstage by 32 other cast members this Tuesday-Wednesday, March 18-19.
West Side Story occupies a special place in the pantheon of Broadway musicals for several reasons. To start with, the original creative team included composer Leonard Bernstein, playwright Arthur Laurents, lyricist Stephen Sondheim, and choreographer Jerome Robbins. With the songs, Bernstein and Sondheim achieved something that’s more often imagined than accomplished — a blend of classical, jazz, and Broadway that’s edgy and immensely popular. Several, including Anita’s big number, “America,” have taken on lives of their own, and, whether it’s “Tonight,” “I Feel Pretty,” “Something’s Coming,” or even “Gee, Officer Krupke,” no high school musical revue would be complete without at least one of them. But the real revolutionary appeal of the show lies deeper than that, at the magic level of group chemistry. Both Robbins and Laurents rose to the occasion, producing a show that’s as rich in thought-provoking drama and unforgettable dances as it is in superb songs. Put the three elements together in equal parts, and you’ve got what Alves simply described as “a masterpiece.” If you’re a Broadway hound, don’t miss this one, and if you’ve never seen a Broadway musical, West Side Story is the perfect introduction to the form.
For tickets and information, call (805) 899-2222 or visit theaterleague.com.