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A timeless tale of true love

WANT TO GO?

"West Side Story" presented by Broadway in Charleston

WHERE: Clay Center

WHEN: 7 p.m. Sunday

TICKETS: $48 and $69

INFO: 304-561-3570 or www.theclaycenter.org

_____CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Michelle Alves said there's nothing like doing a show like "West Side Story." It's been an amazing experience for her.

"It's the 'Romeo and Juliet' of musical theater," she said. "I'll never get tired of singing the songs of Stephen Sondheim or dancing the steps of Jerome Robbins. It's a classic, a masterpiece."

The actress and dancer, who appears in the Broadway in Charleston production of "West Side Story" at the Clay Center Sunday, loved the show so much, she signed on for a second year and hasn't ruled out coming back for a third, fourth or fifth.

"I could do this for 20 years, 30 years," the Puerto Rican performer said.

Set in 1950s New York, "West Side Story" tells the story of Tony and Maria. Tony, a former member of an all-white street gang, The Jets, falls in love with Maria, the sister of Bernardo, who leads the Puerto Rican gang, The Sharks.

Alves plays Anita, Bernardo's girlfriend and Maria's best friend. She said just because "West Side Story" is a love story doesn't mean it's just for the girls.

"It's for the boys, too," she said. "There's fighting and knives and guns!"

She added the show is full of great songs and amazing dancing.

Alves didn't start out on the theater stage -- at least, that wasn't how she earned her living as an entertainer for the bulk of her career.

"I was a background dancer," she said. "I was a commercial dancer for different singers and artists: Ricky Martin, the Black Eyed Peas, Pitbull. I started when I was in high school, when I was 16, and did that for 12 years."

She said she did some musical theater here and there, but mostly she and her sister worked as dancers.

"We traveled the world," Alves said. "And then three years ago, I decided to stop and focus on my dream, my passion, and I moved to New York City."

 Her passion was the stage, and after working various jobs, she landed a spot on the touring production of "West Side Story."

"It's really been great."

Except for the bus rides, she acknowledged. Sometimes the travel can be kind of a grind with hours and hours spent driving from one place to another.

And last year, she added, they didn't get a lot of time off.

"The tour went 10 months, and we didn't have any week lay-offs," Alves said.

For Christmas, she only got home for about a day.

"I flew into Puerto Rico and had Christmas Eve and Christmas morning before I had to fly back," she said. "We had a show on the 26th."

Alves said being away from her family has been hard, but this year is a little better. The show will take a few weeks off in December for Christmas, and she plans to fly home to be with her family.

They also get time off for Thanksgiving, which Alves said she'll be spending in Pittsburgh.

One of the best parts about the show, she said, is that she's made some great friends, including MaryJoanna Grisso, who plays Maria.

"She's my best friend on and off the stage," Alves said.

The two have become nearly inseparable, she said, and Grisso's family lives in Pittsburgh.

"They're my family," she said. "I'm one of them."

Reach Bill Lynch at lynch@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5195.


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