‘Side’ effects

So renowned is the Broadway musical West Side Story that, unlike its leading man, there’s a good chance you haven’t just met a girl named Maria.

You likely know her very well, thanks to the ever-popular movie adaptation. That film won 10 Academy Awards in 1961 and hasn’t left living rooms since.

However, the national tour, now in town through Sunday, presents not quite the same Story of star-crossed lovers from the opposite side of the tracks.

“It is definitely very different. That’s the comment we get the most,” said Erika Hebron, who plays Hotsie, a member of the Jets, and notes that the tour production is of the show’s 2009 revival, rather than the original Broadway production of 1957.

Several scenes are not in the same order; songs appear in different acts; Spanish dialogue is incorporated.

“Everyone grows up with the movie,” Hebron said, “and we hear people all the time afterward say, ‘This is nothing like the movie.’”

Erika Hebron

But in a good way, of course. West Side Story is a beloved, sanctified classic of the stage and screen, and this version remains reverent while aiming for contemporary relevance.

“It’s crazy to be part of something that is so well-known and so iconic,” said Hebron, a St. Louis native and 2009 dance performance graduate of Oklahoma City University. “It’s an honor, really.”

Tweaking Jerome Robbins’ original choreography for this tour, currently in its third trimester, was Joey McKneely, who worked directly with Robbins in the late 1980s.

“It’s like learning firsthand,” Hebron said. “That in itself is what makes it almost unthinkable to me. It’s surreal that I have this experience.”

While West Side Story marks her first national tour, Hebron is hardly a novice to performing, having enjoyed a yearlong reign as Miss Missouri in 2010. The pageant experience proved excellent preparation for her current on-the-road gig.

“It’s a crazy lifestyle, but when it came time to pack for nine months in two suitcases, it was not very hard,” she said, adding that life on the West Side even offers one perk the pageant circuit could not. “It’s nice to be able to travel in sweatpants and no makeup.”

Rod Lott

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