Without question, “West Side Story” was a turning point in American theatre history with its socially relevant story, compelling dance sequences & classic score. Despite the tragic theme, the character of Maria demonstrated the idealistic principles of love within a community suffering from racial diversity and gang wars. SoCal native Ashley Marie has starred as Maria in three different productions, fitting as she found similarities between herself and her West Side character, the actress recently shared with Ivan Steel Presents.
What was your audition process like for McCoy Rigby’s “West Side Story?”
Fun fact: I almost didn’t get to audition for the show! I was working on EVITA at Musical Theatre West and our performances conflicted with the first rehearsals of West Side. I originally had an appointment, but when they heard about my conflicts, they decided it wouldn’t work out. By some miracle, they changed their minds and actually asked me to send in videos of specific scenes from the show. Unfortunately, before I even got the chance to film, I came down with bronchitis and couldn’t get anything done. I almost let it go until my wonderful agent fought for a later appointment. When I finally made it into the room, it felt right and Richard Israel (our director) and I were definitely on the same page in terms of the direction we both wanted to take with Maria. They worked so hard to schedule around my conflicts and for that, I’ll always be so thankful!
What first attracted you to the role of Maria?
I grew up watching the film and always dreamed of playing her one day. We are very similar and it always helps when you understand and sympathize with someone you are portraying. Maria has such a lovely soul. She has a beautiful heart and an open mind, she’s naive while still being so smart, level-headed, and practical. Definitely beyond her years and understanding of the world around her but I think my favorite part about her is how she loves so deeply. It’s amazing to be a part of that.
The final moments in “West Side Story” is heart-wrenching. As an actor, how did you channel the pain your character is experiencing in the final scene?
What a question! Already, the circumstances are enough to make anyone’s heart break! Just holding a gun is terrifying, but a lot does go into it. I adore Eddie (Tony) and that alone can make it easier to get to a dark place. Most of the time though, I use personal past experiences to drive me to that point. I’ll have to isolate myself a bit and focus on re-living painful moments in time. And of course, listening to Anita’s taunting scene in the wings doesn’t hurt either. I definitely always have something to help pull me through.
Does playing Maria get easier each time you reprise the role?
You would think so! I think the easiest part of it all has been already knowing the material. It’s in my bones now! I also speak Spanish and weaving the language into the dialogue has been a fun way to connect to my Latin roots. But the real answer is no. Especially this time around. Richard really challenged me and pushed me to find a fresh take on the role. There were scenes that used to be so easy and in this process I found myself really struggling to grasp onto a very different perspective. There were moments I had been taking at face value that I now have dug so deep into, it’s like I’m doing it for the first time. I feel like the Maria I’ve discovered is so much stronger and is finally winning her battles.
Of course you get to perform some of the greatest songs ever written in musical theatre history. Which number is your favorite and why?
Oh agreed! I’ve done this show three times and the score seems to get more and more beautiful every time I hear it! There is one song that absolutely gives me goosebumps every time: “Something’s Coming”! I don’t what it is, maybe because the rhythm makes you feel like your being propelled forward and it has a sense of mystery and uncertainty but it also bursts with excitement. It’s exactly what Tony is feeling completely translated into music. It’s perfect. But of course, for me, getting to sing “I Have a Love” every night is something really special. Maria becomes this strong, mature woman and there’s just something about fighting for an unconditional, irrevocable, love that is so inspiring. Despite the chaos and knowing that it isn’t logical at all, she loves and there aren’t any other options but to keep loving. I’ve been there, I can empathize 100%. It’s a gorgeous piece of music.
Do you have a specific regimen to keep your soprano in top shape?
Absolutely! Sleep and hydration are key for me! I make sure to steam before I sing and drink lots of tea and water. I have allergies too so I’ll take non-drying allergy meds daily. And of course, warming up is so important. Usually I’ll sing through some recordings from past voice lessons. Marlene (Anita) and I will do them together while we get ready for the show. If I’m in a pinch, I resort to my “Bubbles”! I’ll fill half a water bottle and hum through a straw up and down the scales. It’s a neat trick I learned from my fabulous voice teacher and keeps my chords strong and healthy!
What’s next for you after the show closes?
As soon as we close, I’m making the big move to New York! It’s been a dream since I was 8 years old and thanks to the support of my friends and family I’m finally making it happen. I grew up here, so it’s a bit daunting but that doesn’t take any of the excitement away. It’s a good time to go, I think. I have a place to stay, my agency is bi-coastal and now, thanks to McCoy Rigby, I have my Equity card. That’s definitely one less thing I have to worry about! Everything just fell into place and it’s like the universe was saying “Go!” I can’t wait to see what lies ahead!
Congrats on the big move! Broadway, here you come! Are there any productions you’d love to be part of?
Thank you! Broadway is the ultimate goal! Oh goodness, there are so many amazing shows happening right now. I was in callbacks for The Phantom of the Opera not too long ago, so that’s definitely on my list! However, I’d give anything to be a part of Hamilton! I’ve memorized the entire score. I definitely still look a little young yet, but there’s time. With how popular it is, that show isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.