Evy Ortiz: West Side Story's Maria

“West Side Story,” the iconic 1950’s musical loosely based on “Romeo and Juliet”, tells of the star-crossed romance of Tony and Maria, members of the Jets and Sharks, rival white and Puerto Rican street gangs standing in for the Montagues and Capulets.

Directed by the late, great Arthur Laurents who wrote the book for the original musical, the 2009 Broadway revival of “West Side Story” was notable for the addition of Spanish language lyrics and a gritty update to the now quaint representation of New York gangs from the mid-1950s. The touring production currently plays at Seattle’s Paramount Theatre for seven performances only. 

Evy Ortiz, a native New Yorker of Puerto Rican descent, stars in the role of Maria. Her first exposure to “West Side Story” was the film with Natalie Wood as Maria. She says of playing Maria, “She’s an iconic role in musical theater and so fulfilling for a singing actress. I get to use my whole voice and have a fully fleshed out character.” 

Ortiz said she feels that she is a “romantic and dreamer” like Maria, but she is careful to point out the pitfalls of playing Maria as a stereotype ingénue.  “I had to create intentions for the actions Maria takes.  The role is challenging in that I go from a young, innocent girl to a woman in a very short time.”

Ortiz has performed non-musical roles such as Masha in “The Seagull”. With all roles she starts out by seeking the motivations and intentions of the character.  But she feels that musicals present additional challenges.

“For a musical, I go into the vocal studio with my voice teacher and work on the music thoroughly to get it into my body and voice.  Then I’m free to play the role without thinking of how to sing it….My favorite performers are the ones who can deliver a song vocally and make you believe in what they’re singing about.”

Of being part of a touring show, Ortiz says, “I’m a native New Yorker and my dream has been to perform on Broadway.  Touring always scared me because I was reluctant to leave New York.  But this is a role and show I couldn’t pass up.” 

On the positive side, the touring cast “is like a big family.  I’ve made some close friends….Performing this role requires all my energy and focus so I don’t get to hang out too much, but I still try my best to bond with the cast offstage.”  Ortiz is excited to visit Seattle for the first time.

Ortiz’s plans following the tour include returning to New York, working on a solo album project and hopefully getting into a New York show. 

“I hope more classical theater is in the future for me.  And musically I would love to play Christine in “Phantom of the Opera” and Glinda in “Wicked”.  I hope some of the classics come back to Broadway because there are some great roles to sing.”

“West Side Story” plays at the Paramount through January 15.

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