Actress lands dream job with 'West Side Story'

Dori O'Neal, Herald staff writerMarch 8, 2013 

Michelle Alves is living the dream of starring in a Broadway show.

Born and raised in Puerto Rico, Alves portrays Anita in West Side Story, which comes March 20 to the Windermere Theatre at the Toyota Center in Kennewick.

"My head has been in the clouds since I landed this role," Alves said in an interview with the Herald. "It's truly a dream come true for me. I saw the movie when I was 5 years old and fell in love with it."

West Side Story is a dance-driven production set in New York City's Upper West Side, an ethnic blue-collar neighborhood during the 1950s, where members of the Puerto Rican gang, the Sharks, are taunted by members of the Polish gang, the Jets.

Caught in the middle of the gang war are two star-crossed lovers -- Tony, whose brother leads the Jets, and Maria, whose brother leads the Sharks. The two struggle to rise above the hatred and bigotry to make their love survive.

Alves, 31, has been performing since she was 16 years old, but this is her first starring Broadway touring role.

"It is such an honor for me to play this character," she said. "As many times as I've watched how Rita Moreno played her in the movie, I had to stop watching it finally so I could bring my own Anita to the stage."

Anita is the girlfriend of Bernardo, the leader of the Sharks. She is queen among all the girlfriends of the Sharks, and because she is sassy, flamboyant, self-confident and totally outspoken, she is held in awe of the men.

"Anita is definitely a challenge to portray," she said. "But I'm loving the challenge."

The musical was inspired by Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. The story was written by Arthur Laurents with Leonard Bernstein writing the music, Stephen Sondheim handling the lyrics and Jerome Robbins working his magic with conception and choreography.

This production of West Side Story has a few modifications added to it where some of the songs are sung in Spanish, but Alves said the cast has no intention of letting audience get lost in translation.

"Some of the songs we will sing in Spanish, others in English," she said. "But when we do sing a song in Spanish, we'll be doing it while blending in the English words as well. We hope that singing some songs in Spanish will reach out to the Hispanic community, because we invite everyone to come and cry and laugh with us in this show."

West Side Story is the fourth installment in the Windermere Theatre's Broadway season. The final show of the season will be Elvis Lives on May 18.

Admission to the musical is by season ticket or individual tickets are from $32 to $77 depending on seat location. Tickets can only be purchased through Ticketmaster at www.ticketmaster.com or the Toyota Center box office. Tickets purchased at the box office avoid service charges.

*Dori O'Neal: 582-1514; doneal@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @dorioneal

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