"This version is more violent than the original musical," said actor Drew Foster during the afternoon of opening night in Austin. "Laurents updated it to show what real gang members are about -- that they would be capable of killing someone. It is more realistic, the racial remarks have been upped. The gang speaks Spanish to each other when they're together."
Foster and Nathan Keen -- another actor in the touring company -- are recent college graduates, but their professional careers began when they were children. Foster, who studied at The Juilliard School , started performing in regional theater in Florida at age 6; Keen, a graduate of Otterbein College in Ohio, got the acting bug in Detroit at age 4. Keen appeared in touring companies of "Beauty and the Beast," "Les Miserables" and "Ragtime."
They have both been with "West Side Story" since the touring show started in October and will be with the run when it ends in July 2012.
"It's live stage combat," Keen said about the action in the play. "Every actor learns in school how to make fights look real and safe, and sometimes we get hurt, if something's done the wrong way." Broken noses happen, and with all the dancing in the musical, "dancing hurts."
The pair demonstrated just how they "fake" a fight, as Foster hit Keen in the stomach with a baseball bat and Keen doubled over with a shout of pain. In reality, the bat was not wooden, but made of flexible foam, and the cry of pain -- well, it was good acting.
For all the action and the intense physical demands of "West Side Story," the pair said they love being in one of the most famous musicials every created.
"We're very lucky to be part of the cast," Foster said.