The iconic musical, “West Side Story,” is on its way to ASU Gammage. The show is reminiscent of William Shakespeare’s play, “Romeo and Juliet.” It follows the conflict between two New York gangs, the Jets and the Sharks, in the middle of the ‘50s. Jeffrey C. Sousa who plays Bolo and is an understudy for the character Bernardo spoke with The State Press about his role, the tour and his background.
The State Press: Can you tell me about your character in “West Side Story?”
Jeffrey C. Sousa: I play Bolo. He is one of the Shark boys — one of the Shark gang members … (It’s) a pretty substantial dance part. I’m part of the dream sequence in the ballet in act two. The character is pretty antagonistic … He’s kind of an a--hole — you could say that — to the Jets.
SP: How did you get involved in this production?
JS: I had auditioned last spring, and I got the callback in July and I had started rehearsals in August … It’s exciting because I had transitioned pretty quickly from college. I graduated last May from the University of the Arts in Philadelphia and from there, I had transitioned into a job by late summer, so it’s great. And I had a lot of pressures of not knowing if things were going to fall into place right out of school … so it was really difficult. You’re auditioning for so many things, but “West Side Story” was definitely the perfect marriage of classic musical theater with the amazing orchestration by (Leonard) Bernstein, the choreography of Jerome Robbins and (lyrics by Stephen) Sondheim, so it’s a pretty amazing show. It was great for me. It has, still, all the classic vocabulary you see in ballet dance as well as very pedestrian movement, so it’s a great blend. It’s a great revival.
SP: What other roles have you portrayed?
JS: I am an understudy for Bernardo who is the leader for the Sharks. Bernardo has his love interest with Anita who is the lead female role along with Maria, and she wants to be an American. Bernardo is pretty much about having the mindset of a strong Puerto Rican man who wants to keep his cultures and traditions, still while living in New York. He’s always bumping heads with the leader of the Jets who doesn’t want the Puerto Rican immigration (in) the city.
SP: Is there anything that you identify with in the play from your personal life?
JS: It definitely plays a connection in relations to, hearing more so than actually experiencing, so much racial discrimination. I’m Latino, but I’m not Spanish. I’m Portuguese, but it’s really interesting to see the similar cultures and traditions and customs that you would see in a Puerto Rican family and lifestyle along with my own — just like a large, close-knit loving family. With the Sharks, it’s about representing the family and having pride for where they’re from and unity and really just listening to each other. So it’s nice, ‘cause … my character, Bolo, (is) this very youthful, fun guy within the family of the Sharks.
SP: Do you have a dream role that you would like to portray someday in any show?
JS: I don’t know that I have, necessarily, a dream role. An ultimate goal is to be on Broadway and to, in some sense, make it, because within musical theater or in dance, that’s one of the ultimate goals is just to have that experience. Not so much of the fame, but just the career and having those things under your experience is just so fulfilling. But, it’s been great because Bernardo, the leader of the sharks, is such an amazing and important role, especially for the Hispanic community.
SP: How has it been touring around the country so far?
JS: It’s been busy. It’s been a year pretty much in three weeks now. Tempe is going to be our one-year mark. So, it’s a lot of work, a lot of preparation. Just like constantly living out of a bag and moving from city to city, and sometimes you have stop and ask yourself, “Wait, where are we? What city are we going to? How are we getting there?” It’s just nonstop, but it’s a lot of fun. You get to see the country … It’s also nice when we have sit down locations, then up to five weeks in a city. Some side things that are difficult dealing with are not being able to see your family (or) your friends as often as you’d normally.
SP: What lead you to the world of theater and dance?
JS: Well, I was a ballet major in college. I started dance in seventh grade, well I was introduced to dance in seventh grade, but I started dancing, actually, when I was in high school. And, it’s just something that became an opportunity, and I had tried it, like tried taking a class, and I just started getting into it. I had a really great teacher that was really inspiring and introduced me to the world of dance and the arts and then from there, just from more exposure and everything. Musical theater was always there and really looking into it, there’s so much fun and exciting opportunities. The first show I saw on Broadway was “Chicago,” and it’s just so legendary for its dance and musical extraordinaire, so just exposure from one thing to another just fell into place.
SP: Is there a dancer that inspires you?
JS: I would say Gene Kelly is one of my all-time fondest inspirations.
More information and tickets can be found and purchased online at asugammage.com, over the phone at 1-800-982-ARTS (2787) or in person by visiting the ASU Gammage box office.
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