“West Side Story,” the renowned New York City-set musical that centers on the epic rivalry between the Sharks and Jets street gangs and features a host of familiar songs, is coming to San Diego in an all-new interpretation by the San Diego Musical Theatre. Kicking off Feb. 13 for a three-week run, the production is the nonprofit’s first of the year, taking place at its new home in the Spreckels Theatre.
“I’m very excited about this,” said Jessica Soza, who plays Maria in the musical. “This is Broadway-level in every regard. The acting is unbelievable and the dancing is crazy good. This is how you want to experience it.”
Soza should know. As a former resident of Fontana, Calif., who is a graduate of Los Angeles’ American Musical and Dramatic Academy, she’s reprising her role in San Diego after going on the musical’s international tour last year.
“I was so excited that this was coming to San Diego, since a lot of my family couldn’t see me do the show while I was in Europe,” she said. “This production is probably the best collaboration of people in Southern California. It’s such a high standard of quality. Plus, other than the dancing and singing, I think people will be moved by the message of the show.”
For Soza, being cast in both the international and San Diego productions of the musical couldn’t have come at a better time. “Before I auditioned, I was ready to give it all up,” she explained of the difficult world of being an actress. “Luckily, I landed the part and it wound up changing my life. It’s good to be home now and ride the coattails of this show. It’s the only one I have no problem doing over and over again.”
It didn’t hurt that Soza had months of performances of the international version under her belt when it came time to audition for the San Diego production. “I had a lot to bring to the table since I was playing this part for so long,” Soza pointed out. “At the same time, I was ready to strip the part down and learn a new way of doing it.”
The first-ever production of “West Side Story” hit Broadway in 1957, and since then the show has been revived numerous times, most recently in 2009. Audiences perhaps best know the 1961 film version, which starred Natalie Wood and Rita Moreno and won 10 Academy Awards that year, including Best Picture.
Soza notes that the movie version differs from the Broadway show. “I haven’t seen the movie in a long time because I wanted to find my own character,” she said. “But there was some editing to the story and songs in the movie that the musical expands on and will be neat for people to experience.”
After weeks of rehearsals, she said she and her cast and crew are ready. “I can’t wait,” Soza said. “I’m so grateful for this opportunity.”
San Diego Musical Theatre’s production of “West Side Story” runs from Feb. 13-March 1. Visit www.sdmt.org.