POSTED ON APRIL 17, 2013:
Sharks, Jets and Egyptians
And they all sing
One of the great musicals of all time comes to town as Celebrity Attractions brings Leonard Bernstein's big, sprawling, West Side Story.
For the three of you who don't know what that is, it's Romeo and Juliet set in New York City: rival gangs the Sharks and the Jets stand in for the Capulets and Montagues, there is still an element of irrational hatred (the Capulets and Montagues don't seem to even remember why they're fighting; the Puerto Rican Sharks and Polish-American Jets burn with a racially-based disdain), and Tony and Maria meet the same fate. Well, sort of.
Coming to town with the production is Erika Hebron, a cast member with Oklahoma ties.
"Every night, I play a Jet girl named Hotsie, and then I swing all the other female roles except Maria and a couple of others," she said. The swing position basically means she knows all the female parts of the show -- the lines, the songs, the dances -- and she fills in for those performers when needed.
"A lot of times, I don't know what I'm doing until the day of the show," Hebron said. "I can't imagine doing this tour in a specific role, because I like it because it's always different and it's challenging. Every night is something new."
Something else is new to this show, as well, and it's an unusual element of this incarnation of West Side Story, which first bowed on Broadway in 1957 and enjoyed a 2009 revival.
"It is a little different than the original," she said. "You still have the two gangs, the Jets and the Sharks. The Puerto Rican characters are singing in Spanish, so it's a little more authentic, because that's how they would have done it. It's a little grittier than the original production, too. It's got a darker side to it. It's a little more honest."
One's first objection might be, "But I don't speak Spanish. Will there be, like, subtitles?"
"Only about ten percent of the show features Spanish, whether it's sung or spoken," the actress said. "But like the song 'I Feel Pretty,' there's a mix of English and Spanish, so I don't think anyone would be lost. You can kind of get where they're going and what they're doing. I don't speak Spanish, but I do in the show and I'm comfortable with it. It's pretty easy to follow."
This multi-lingual idea came about with the 2009 revival, and its reception continues to confound Hebron and the rest of the production.
"Our director thought it would be well-received in places like Los Angeles, but someone actually came up and confronted him after the show there," she said. "A lot of times, when we go to smaller cities, it's received really well."
The Missouri native spent some years here in Oklahoma, and this is where she started achieving a great deal of the success she's enjoyed for the past few years.
"I grew up in St. Louis," she said. "And I came to Oklahoma City for school. I competed in the Miss Oklahoma pageant."
After school, Hebron returned to her homeland, where she was promptly crowned Miss Missouri, which is pretty cool for a kid who went to Oklahoma City University to be a dancer and just sort of fell into the pageant culture that flourishes there.
As a member of a national touring production of a show, Hebron said it's not the easiest thing in the world, but never even came close to complaining about it.
"It's crazy to really travel," she said. "I thought I'd traveled a lot, but I really had only been around the Midwest and a little of the east coast. But to see the geographic distance we've gone and seeing all the different landscapes has been more than I could have imagined."
For all that, there's a lot of time spent sitting on a bus, and pretty much everyone knows that's not the most restful way of traveling.
"On paper, it doesn't look too bad: 'Okay, we're going to drive in and do a show, and then we'll drive out,'" Hebron said. "But it's harder than it looks. Some weeks, we have three or four cities. We travel by bus, and I would almost say that's harder on us than the show is. Sitting on a bus can take it out of you."
However, she and her castmates look forward to runs like the one they bring to Tulsa this week, because they get to stay put for a few days.
"We have days off," she said. "We'll be able to get around and explore and see the city. It's really fun for us to be able to explore the city."
Hebron and the cast of West Side Story explore the stage of the Chapman Music Hall downtown at the Performing Arts Center at 110 E. 2nd St. The shows run evenings Tuesday, April 30 through Sunday, May 5, with additional 2pm matinees on Saturday and Sunday. Tickets start at $20 and are available at 918-596-7111, myticketoffice.com, or at the PAC box office.
Remembrance and Reflections, presented by Signature Symphony
On the 18th anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing, Signature Symphony offers a multimedia evening, including John Rutter's Requiem and a play by a local writer. Samuel Barber's Adagio will be accompanied by visual storytelling in the form of photos by Stephanie Stone.
Remembrance and Reflections comes to the VanTrease Performing Arts Center for Education Thursday, April 18 at 7:30pm. The VanTrease is located at E. 81st Street and Hwy. 169, and tickets are available at signaturesymphony.org or myticketoffice.com or by phone at 918-595-7777.
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