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Five minutes with the cast of West Side Story

Direct from Melbourne, the iconic musical West Side Story is about to visit the capital on its exclusive New Zealand season. Ahead of their arrival this June, we caught up with the lead cast, Todd Jacobsson and Sophie Salvesani to hear all about this unmissable production.

A modern retelling of Romeo and Juliet; this tragic love story tells the tale of two young people whose happiness is destroyed by the hate of two enemy camps in New York City’s urban jungle. The “Jets”, sons of previous immigrants to America, battle the new arrivals from Puerto Rico, the “Sharks”, for domination of the streets.

Todd Jacobsson

todd circle

Todd plays the role of Tony, the protagonist of the musical who falls in love with Maria despite being a former member of the Jets. Todd first trained at BBC Studios before touring the world as a guest entertainer on board cruise liners. Most recently, Todd has been performing in the award-winning Australian premiere of 'The Book Of Mormon'.

WSS 600X400 v2 Photo credit: Jeff Busby

Why do you think West Side Story remains so popular to this day, since its inception in 1957?

The world is experiencing the same issues regarding race in 2019 more so than ever, so West Side Story's cultural relevance is really significant. And the musical score is so timeless that everyone holds a memory with a certain piece of the show.

What has the rehearsal process been like leading up to opening night?

It’s been one of the most challenging yet rewarding experiences of my life so far. It was gruelling at times having to delve into deep emotions, but you come out of the experience a better actor. Tony's shoes are big ones to fill, but thankfully I don’t feel too unlike from the character, so most of the time on stage I’m really just myself. 

What can the Wellington audience expect from West Side Story?

Expect to see the world's greatest musical performed by a fresh, energetic cast. A night of escapism, that entertains, educates and makes you think, everything you want from good theatre!

wss 2 1000x400 Photo credit: Jeff Busby

Sophie Salvesani

sophie circle

Sophie plays the role of Maria, the sister of the Shark's leader who has a major rivalry with the Jets. Sophie made her community theatre stage debut in a production of West Side Story as Consuelo back in 2008, as well as understudying the role of Maria, so it is only fitting she will make her professional theatre debut in the leading role.

WSS 3 600X400 Photo credit: Jeff Busby

What would you say to someone thinking of attending West Side Story as their first musical?

You couldn’t pick a better show to start with! The storyline is so iconic, and its connections to Romeo and Juliet will make you feel something real. You’ll find yourself both laughing and crying, maybe even at the same time.

How does the cast prepare for such a celebrated musical? 

We had a very intense one month of rehearsals, both emotionally and physically. On the very first day Todd and I were in music calls all day, in which we sang through the whole score twice. Meanwhile the rest of the cast were breaking a sweat learning the choreography for ‘Dance at the Gym’.

From all the amazing songs in the world-renowned musical score, what is your personal favourite?

It would have to be 'A Boy Like That/ I Have a Love'. For me, this is the most realistic moment in the show, where sisters (at heart) are fighting over what is perceived wrong in the eyes of society, but what they know is right in their heart. Close your eyes and I’m sure you'll feel the emotion too.

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wss double 2 420x400 Photo credit: Jeff Busby

Don't miss the musical event of the year when West Side Story visits Wellington's Opera House for a strictly limited season, 6-16 June. Find out more and get your tickets here.