'Maria' has been to the west side, and elsewhere
By Bill Glauber of the Journal Sentinel
Actress, singer and dancer Evy Ortiz stars as Maria in the touring company of "West Side Story." We caught up with her at the Marcus Center in Milwaukee, where the show will play through Sunday. This is an edited transcript of the conversation.
Q. Maria is one of the great roles in the American musical theater. In just a few words, describe Maria as you see her.
A. She just has this feeling of there is something more to life than what she has seen so far, and she just wants to find it. . . . She's young and excited to be here and she finds that in one moment in Tony when she sees him at the gym.
Q. In researching the role you spoke with your grandparents about what it was like to be in New York City and to be Puerto Rican in that era. What did you find out?
A. My grandfather came here when he was 11 and he said he wanted to go back to Puerto Rico so badly. He couldn't speak the language. He was put to work really quickly. He missed being home so much. My grandmother said she assimilated quickly because of the community of women . . . she was a little more sheltered. My grandfather said there definitely were gangs back then and he actually had an altercation with an Italian gang in the neighborhood when he first got there, just like the show.
Q. What was your reaction when you found out Natalie Wood (as Maria) didn't actually sing that role (in the movie). How tough is it to sing this role night after night?
A. I love Natalie Wood's portrayal. I think she's beautiful in the role. I think that's just a standard they did back then. It was more for the look and the acting ability. I don't have a problem with her not really singing it - it's just the Hollywood way. But on stage it obviously should be the person. It fits my voice really well. In general it is a difficult role to sing because you use your entire range of voice and you have to act and be dramatic in the end and yell and go to so many places. I use every part of myself as an artist. Every bit of my training I have to use in the show. It's the hardest role I think I'll ever play.
Q. You've been on the road with this show from Denver to Des Moines, Seattle to St. Louis. What's your favorite road food, and how are you keeping sane traveling with a band of actors?
A. I had amazing meals in St. Louis. I gained five pounds there eating all this Southern food. I ate fried chicken like five times and barbecue. . . . I read a lot, watch a lot of "Law & Order" and "Seinfeld" and go to my room. . . . We are away from our homes, our normal lives. I just like to try to feel as normal as I can when I'm not doing the show.