Sometimes following your dreams can offer great results. Take Ali Ewoldt, the stirring, standout star of the on-going national tour of the latest Broadway revival of WEST SIDE STORY. Growing up, the actress had always been drawn to musical theater, performing in several regional and school productions in her hometown of Pleasantville, NY before whisking off to Yale University to pursue a degree in Psychology—which in her mind was a "safer" bet for a future career.
But the call of her dreams was just too powerful to ignore. Thus, she decided to take a chance on her proven talents and start auditioning for professional theater work to add to her burgeoning acting résumé. Her obvious abilities and tenacious pluck led her to a stint as a Disney princess where she discovered "A Whole New World"... the perfect training ground for a gig that found her globetrotting the world, including playing Maria in the international tour of WEST SIDE STORY. She then returned Stateside to take on roles in more regional theater, later joining the company of the LES MISÉRABLES national tour. That soon opened up the opportunity for her Broadway debut as Cosette in the show's new sit-down revival, performing opposite her personal idol Lea Salonga.
But somehow, though, she always gets drawn back to the classic musical about star-crossed lovers. For almost a year, Ewoldt has been wowing audiences across America with her moving portrayal of Maria, a Puerto Rican immigrant who scandalously falls for the off-limits boy-next-door in the much lauded hit revival of WEST SIDE STORY, now performing at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Orange County, California through September 18. This touring production—a direct transfer of the Broadway revival helmed by Tony Award winner Arthur Laurents—reunites Ewoldt with Joey McNeely, her director of the international tour of WEST SIDE STORY and the man who has here recreated Jerome Robbins' signature choreography.
Before one of history's greatest musical masterpieces hits the stage in Costa Mesa, Ewoldt chatted with BroadwayWorld's Michael Lawrence Quintos about her early childhood, working side-by-side with two of her idols back-to-back, and then slipping into the oh-so-pretty role of Maria once again—this time with the late Mr. Laurents' direct blessing.
BWW: Hi Ali! I'd first like to say how much I really enjoyed your performance as Maria when the tour first arrived in Southern California at the Pantages Theatre last year.
Oh, thank you so much!
It's such an iconic role. Can you talk a little bit about how you came to the part?
Well, I've always loved WEST SIDE STORY. I grew up on the movie and loving Natalie Wood, who of course played Maria. And when I was in elementary school, I saw a high school production of it and fell completely in love. I didn't do my first production of it until a couple of years out of college. But I think it's always been a part I've kept my eye on as something I'm vocally and physically right for. So it's always been a dream role for me in that sense. I eventually did a couple of small productions of it... one in New Hampshire and at Pittsburgh's CLO which was really wonderful—but it was only for a couple of weeks. And then I did the international tour where we took WEST SIDE STORY to Europe, Tel Aviv and Japan.
Cool! Now how was your audition process for the current national tour?
My agent had to really fight for me to be seen because I heard that [the revival's producers] didn't really want people who have played the part before. So before I went in, I actually had to take that WEST SIDE STORY tour off my résumé to audition! Then I had to learn a lot of Spanish to audition. And so on my first audition when they finally agreed to see me, I had a very long call back with Arthur Laurents. That was absolutely amazing. I remember... I sang and they had me act out the first bridal shop scene. He came out from behind the desk at the auditions... he gestured to me and he walked me all the way to the back of the room where the piano was and he stuck out his hand and said, "Hi, I'm Arthur Laurents." [Laughs] I was, like, "Yes, omigosh, I know! I'm Ali!" [Laughs]
I was completely blown away. I think for some reason he didn't think I knew who he was! So, he was like, "You're good! You're good! But I can make you better!" And so we basically went through the entire show... I would do a scene and he would get up from behind the desk and walk all the way with me to the back to the piano and give me a couple of notes. I think it's kind of amazing that I didn't hear back for about two months... they kept telling me that they were going to bring me back at some point. And finally I came in for the final call back and there were, maybe, thirty people in the room. It was the new cast and the producers. I got to read with Kyle Harris, who plays Tony, and Michelle Aravena, who plays Anita, for the first time. And then they called me about an hour later after all that waiting and said that I got it!
That's great! So Arthur was very hands-on even with the national tour then?