National tour of 'West Side Story' launches in Chattanooga this weekend

National tour of 'West Side Story' launches in Chattanooga this weekend

October 31st, 2013 by Clint Cooper in Chattnow Art

Members of the Jets gang dance during one of the many singing and dancing numbers in the Broadway touring production of "West Side Story."

Photo by Contributed Photo/Times Free Press.

IF YOU GO

* What: "West Side Story."

* When: 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday, Nov. 1-2.

* Where: Memorial Auditorium, 399 McCallie Ave.

* Admission: $41.50-$67 (plus fees).

* Phone: 423-642-8497, 423-757-5050.

* Website: www.ChattanoogaOnStage.com.

Jarrad Biron Green had just finished playing the lead role of Tony in "West Side Story" at New York University last spring when he learned of an open call for the same role for an upcoming national tour.

"What the heck," he said he remembered thinking. "I'm probably not going to get it, but I'll go for the experience."

More than six months later, Green - now the classic musical's Tony - is in Chattanooga preparing for the opening of the tour.

That tour of the Tony Award-winning play, inspired by William Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet," opens Friday and Saturday, Nov. 1-2, at Memorial Auditorium.

"The central story is the most unbelievably awesome and important part of the show," said Green, who is from Amherst, Mass. "It makes it one of the best shows ever written in musical theater."

The play, in which Tony and Maria, of different ethnic backgrounds, fall in love amid the harsh rivalry between New York City street gangs. Tony, of Polish-American descent, is a Jet, ready to leave gang life behind. Maria's family is Puerto Rican, and brother Bernardo is the leader of the Sharks.

The tour is based on the 2009 Broadway revival of the original 1958 production.

"It's an edgier, darker version," said Green. "It more reflects the sound of New York City today."

Some 10 percent of the lines of the Sharks, for instance, is spoken in Spanish, he said. Even some of the lyrics and comedy elements have been tweaked.

"[The creative team] is striving for it to be more updated," Green said.

The tour, which concludes in June, crisscrosses the country, from West Palm Beach, Fla., to Anchorage, Alaska, and from Thousand Oaks, Calif., to New Brunswick, N.J.

Green said the 1961 film, which won 10 Academy Awards and was second in a ranking of AFI's Greatest Movie Musicals (behind "Singin' in the Rain"), was the first movie musical he saw in elementary school.

"It got me into musicals," he said. "But it was always Leonard Bernstein's score that stuck with me. It's such a beautiful score."

The production contains such classic show tunes as "Maria," "America," "Tonight" and "Somewhere."

The tour cast rehearsed at a rented studio in New York City for two and a half weeks, up to 10 hours a day, before arriving in Chattanooga last week. All but about five actors are new, he said.

Memorial Auditorium, according to Green, "is quite remarkable" and "a very nice place to start." The house, he said, is likely to rival the 3,000- to 4,000-seat auditoriums in which the cast will normally play.

"So far," he said, "it's been an unbelievably amazing experience. I'm supposed to be a senior in college, but I was going for [a degree in] musical theater at NYU anyway. This is one of my favorite musicals and roles, and to work with such a good cast and creative team on top of everything" is exciting. "It's the first stop of what's to be a long adventure. It's crazy."

"West Side Story," which contains mild violence and mature themes and dialogue, is recommended for ages 13 and up.

Contact Clint Cooper at ccooper@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6497. Subscribe to his posts online at Facebook.com/ClintCooperCTFP.