Broadway stars snap into Kennedy Center with ‘West Side Story’ concert

The cast of "West Side Story: In Concert." (Courtesy Kennedy Center)

WASHINGTON — While The Washington Ballet presents the Montagues and Capulets in “Romeo & Juliet” this week at the Kennedy Center Opera House, the NSO invites you to see the Sharks and Jets performed by Broadway’s top stars in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall.

That’s right: You can take your Valentine’s date to “West Side Story: In Concert” from Feb. 14-17, part of an ongoing global celebration marking composer Leonard Bernstein’s centennial.

“We can’t wait,” said Corey Cott, who plays Tony. “We’re just in rehearsal now with the rehearsal pianists, who are incredible, but we’re itching to hear the full symphony!”

Hailing from Broadway’s “Newsies” and the Kennedy Center’s “Gigi,” Cott leads a cast of stars, including Solea Pfeiffer as Maria (the “Hamilton” national tour), Krysta Rodriguez as Anita (“Smash”), Ephraim Sykes as Riff (“Hairspray Live!”) and Joel Perez as Bernardo (“Fun Home”).

“This ensemble is filled with some really beautiful voices,” Pfeiffer said. “I haven’t really heard this score sound this lush and beautiful before. [We have] people from the musical theater world, people from the opera world, people with all kinds of different backgrounds, each with their own personal take on the material, but everyone is blending together so beautifully.”

The evening will feature Bernstein’s iconic music set to the legendary lyrics of Stephen Sondheim, including “Maria,” “Tonight,” “America,” “Cool,” “I Feel Pretty” and “Somewhere.”

“It’s just one of the most perfect scores of all time,” Pfeiffer said. “With this caliber of orchestra, it’s just going to be perfection. … The entire score will be played. We’re calling it a ‘concert in context.’ You’ll get the full story of ‘West Side Story,’ but you’ll be home by 11.”

“It’s this amazing hybrid of the full show, but it’s abridged down to an hour and a half,” Cott said. “It’s pretty much the highlights of the show. Some of the big dance arrangement sections are cut down a bit, but in terms of all the sung numbers, you’ll hear everything in order.”

While Pfeiffer has played Maria before, this is Cott’s first time in the role of Tony.

“I’ve never done Tony,” Cott said. “I’ve been taking voice lessons most of my life and I’ve never even dived into the ‘West Side’ rep, which is kind of crazy. So this is my first go at all of these iconic songs. … It is a bit daunting because everyone has sang these songs from Pavarotti to the most recent revival on Broadway and every musical kid. So I’m trying to keep it mine.”

While Cott and Pfeiffer each get solo numbers (“Maria” for Cott and “I Feel Pretty” for Pfeiffer), they have really enjoyed their instant chemistry during their duets (“Somewhere,” “Tonight”).

“When Solea and I first met a week ago and sang through ‘Tonight’ the first time, we both looked at each other,” Cott said. “It was amazing how we were very much on the same page in how we approached the musicality, when we were taking breaths, what our phrasing was.”

“We were very much on the same page,” Pfeiffer said. “It can go either way when you’re starting a process like this with somebody. It’s pretty clear right away if you’re on the same page. We definitely approached it the same way with the same idea of how it should be sung.”

Beyond the duets, it’ll be epic to see the full cast come together on the “Tonight Quintet.”

“It’s amazing,” Cott said. “You can look through the course of musical theater history [and] see where so many other writers and shows stole their ideas almost directly from this piece. This, to me, feels like the true original Act One finale when every character is having their moment. It reminds me of ‘One Day More,’ which came a good 20 years later [in ‘Les Mis’]. … It’s genius because everyone is singing the same lyric, but every character wants a different thing.”

The entire presentation is carefully staged by director Francesca Zambello, NSO conductor Steven Reineke, assistant director Eric Sean Fogel, visual designers S. Katy Tucker and Mark McCullough, costume designer Lynly Saunders and sound designer Ken Travis.

“You’re not going to see Jerome Robbins’ choreography, but the essence is there,” Cott said, to which Pfeiffer added, “None of it is at a stationary mic. We’re running around dancing.”

The powerful story of star-crossed lovers makes it the perfect date for Valentine’s Day.

“Opening night is Valentine’s Day, so we have an extra little added element,” Cott said. “I told my wife, I think love has never been captured so honestly in a score. In terms of putting the idea of love into a melody, I’ve never experienced it this way before. So, what I’m trying to do every time I sing it is just remember the first time I fell in love and just sing about that.”

Click here for more details. Hear our full conversation with Corey Cott and Solea Pfeiffer below:

WTOP's Jason Fraley chats with Corey Cott & Solea Pfeiffer (Full Interview)

Jason Fraley

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