Everyone is familiar with all-time Romeo and Juliet story by Shakespeare, what about the play West Side Story? Inspired by the renowned love story, the play circles around two rival street gangs from the 1950s. The fiery Jets and hot Sharks are constantly battling out for dominations in the Upper West Side neighbourhood. Things starts to gets interesting when cupid aimed his arrows at Tony, a Jet and Maria, sister of the Sharks leaders.
The controversial musical highlight relevant powerful themes such as pride, love, women’s societal role and most importantly, racisms. The play is also kept in tune by renowned 76 years old Donald Tsang who has done renowned musicals like Phantom of the Opera and Cabaret!
We had a small chat with on-screen lovers Keely Beirne and Waldemar Quinones -Villanueva who plays Anita and Bernardo in the musical West Side Story. And here’s how it went:
TLC: Share with us about yourself and the role you play
Keely: It’s my first time playing in West Side Story and I have always wanted to play this role since I was 5! My sister played this role in her high school musical and ever since then, she’s been a role model to me. Everyone knows the story, the songs and it’s really an honour to play this role.
Waldermar: I have been involved in this production since the beginning, having performed in it on Broadway and during the first US-tour. I play Bernardo, who is leaders of the Sharks, older brother to Maria and boyfriend to Anita. As one of the first Puerto Rico immigrants to arrive in New York, he experiences the racism and zero tolerance for immigrants. Like Bernardo, I was born and raised in Puerto Rico as well, and after 15 years of migrating to New York, it’s sad to say there is still racism happening today.
TLC: What are your views on the roles you play?
Keely: Anita is an iconic role and it’s a huge honour to play such role. Anita has been played by many iconic women such as Rita Moreno, and I feel there is a duty to fulfil this role. It’s a huge responsibility but I am happy to take it.
Anita is bold, confident, family oriented and she has so much love and passion to give. She lives to the traits of a Puerto Rico, being spicy and ferocious, and she encapsulates everything a woman is. In the show, she is a colourful character who went through so much in such short amount of time.
Waldemar: Bernardo is family oriented, he is the alpha male, the leader who also loves his family and girlfriend very much. He may be stubborn in certain ways but every intention that he has come from a good place, and solely because of love. Also, being the alpha male in the gang, and having experienced certain cases of racism, he will go all lengths to prevent his loved ones from experiencing it again.
TLC: Can you relate yourself to the characters you play?
Keely: Like Anita, I am outgoing and confident. When I first started playing the role of Anita, the Director (Joey McKneely) said that playing this role will allow me to know so much more about myself which I totally agree today. I have grown so much since then and it’s amazing and cool to have mature into a character that I really admire.
Waldemar: When I play this character, I think of my dad. My dad is everything Ricardo is, he is family oriented and everything he does, he does it with good intentions and out of love for my family.
TLC: What is one thing you both have learned from your characters?
Keely: In a musical situation, things are moving much quicker, we have to fit everything in two hours and forgiveness is something that I have learnt from Anita. Anita goes through a lot in the first act and despite everything, she is still there and consoles Maria and let her guards down. Despite everything, Anita embodies values such as forgiveness, compassion and her love for Tony throughout the show. I really admire her so much on how she is able to not hold grudges and yet be open for another person’s love and loss.
Waldemar: Bernardo is a complete character. Like Anita, he has been through so much, managing the packs, his pride and seeing his sister falling in love with an enemy, I don’t know how far I can get if I was in his shoes. The one thing I love about Bernardo is his pride. He is not afraid or shameful of his roots and traditions, he proudly stands by them.
TLC: If you could spend one day with Anita what would you do?
Keely: She’s like the best dancer in the Sharks, I will bring her to the salsa club and dance the night away with her! I will bring her for a meal of chicken rice and chat over a glass of wine! Or have a stroll with her in the park and Pick her brains for pearls of wisdom, she has been through so much and a huge role model to me. She is such a charismatic and funny person, and anytime with her will be a good time!
TLC: Both of you have been travelling around the world, what’s your favourite memory so far?
Keely: Travelling has been a crazy experience. I am fortunate to travel so much of the world, and even to places that I have never thought I would be able to go! Grateful for being able to do such a reputable show, work with so many amazing people and travel around the world.
We just got back from Indonesia, and the company had a vacation in Bali where I visited the Hindu temple. I did the cleansing ritual and it was one of the most incredible experience ever! And once we opened in Dublin, my parents were in the first row and I had this out of the world feeling. I could finally gift them back with a performance of all their investments in me with those dance classes and acting classes. The audience was incredible!
Waldemar: Travelling is like living from the suitcase to me! *chuckles* Halfway through my first performance, I felt so much grace and bliss!
TLC: Lastly, share one message to aspiring Anita and Bernardos out there.
Keely: Dig deep into Anita. You may find ugly things, but hey, stay open and vulnerable to it! That’s how human works, connect with the pretty intense emotions and share them with the audience. Personally, it was a difficult process to open up but eventually, you will get there!
Waldemar: This business is hard, you got to keep training and preserve. People who have succeeded in this industry have grown a layer of tough skin on them, so just remember your roots and keep going!
Keely: you will hear many “No”s before hearing your “Yes”. Keep going, and dreams do come true in many different ways. Be confident and comfortable in your own skin and you may just exceed your expectations, keep going!
Catch the duo and the rest of the West Side Story cast @ MasterCard Theatres at Marina Bay Sands and The Epiphany Duplet’s review here!