Picture it: New York City, 1957. A romantic biracial tragedy begins to unfold in the streets—with warring factions everywhere. The issues surround two star-crossed lovers—poor Tony and Maria!—but “Somewhere,” there is a time and place for them.
It turns out that time is Friday, March 9, through Sunday, March 11, and that place is the McCallum Theatre, in Palm Desert. That’s when and where the theater is celebrating the centennial of composer Leonard Bernstein’s birthday with a concert version of the classic musical West Side Story.
Chad Hilligus is producing and directing West Side Story: In Concert. Currently the senior manager of sponsorship development at the McCallum, he’s a singer and actor who was one of the Ten Tenors—with a number of musicals to his credit.
“Because of my involvement in the world tour of West Side Story, this project was born,” Hilligus said. “… We wanted this production to focus on the whole score rather than the other elements, like the choreography. The music will be the star of the show. It’s also the only way we can produce it in-house, because of the time constraints with our limited season. Even with this production, we need four nights in a week to tech and rehearse the show. If you added in the choreography, it would possibly take half of our season to produce.”
Hilligus was not kidding when he said the music will be star of the show: A 40-piece orchestra on the stage will be conducted by Richard Kaufman.
“The cast is the premier cast for West Side Story,” Hilligus said. “Everyone from the cast has either been in the 2009 revival, the national tour, or the 50th anniversary world tour. Tony will be sung by Matthew Hydzik, who is the best Tony I have ever seen. Ali Ewoldt is the foremost and most-sought-after Maria: She played Maria on the world tour after doing the Broadway revival. She is currently staring on Broadway in Phantom of the Opera as Christine.
“Natalie Cortez is Anita. She well-known for all her Broadway work, too. If someone is doing a production of West Side Story, she is the one everyone wants for their Anita. She has been in three productions of West Side Story with Ali Ewoldt playing Maria. Their chemistry is great; they know how to work with each other.
Coming off School of Rock on Broadway is John Arthur Greene, who will play Riff. “Again, it’s a role he has played on Broadway and in the 50th anniversary world tour,” Hilligus said.
I asked Hilligus if all of this experience is important. “Yes—we only have two days to put this together, from the time the artists all arrive in Palm Desert until opening night. It was essential that not only has everyone done the role before; it was important most of them have performed together in a production of West Side Story. The chemistry and muscle memory is already there, so a lot of that will just come together.”
In some ways, Hilligus said, this symphony version will surpass a conventional production of West Side Story.
“You’re going to see a show that highlights and showcases the musical score,” he said. “You’re going to see a 40-piece orchestra with the best musicians from L.A., and some of the greatest orchestras in the country. This is onstage being conducted by the Grammy Award- and Emmy Award-winning Richard Kaufman. The audience will hear the full score as well as the dialogue from the cast. The only thing missing is the choreography; that’s really what makes it a concert version.”
West Side Story: In Concert will be performed at 8 p.m., Friday, March 9; 2 and 8 p.m., Saturday, March 10; and 2 and 7 p.m., Sunday, March 11, at the McCallum Theatre, 73000 Fred Waring Drive, in Palm Desert. Tickets are $47 to $107. For tickets or more information, call 760-340-2787, or visit www.mccallumtheatre.com.