Friday, June 12, 2009

Message to everyone: Dreams still can come true

In the midst of the daily barrage of depressing news, occasionally there's a ray of hope and optimism -- something that went down as it should.

Sunday night's Tony awards ceremonies in New York brought home that point when the award for best featured actress in a musical went to Karen Olivo for her role of Anita in the revision of West Side Story that opened earlier this year on Broadway.

My wife and I had the privilege of spending New Year's Eve up close at the preview of the new West Side Story at the National Theatre in Washington, D.C., the very same venue that the original version opened at in 1957.

The revised version -- I am reluctant to say revival because there's been a significant revision -- is a bit more realistic in that a good chunk of the dialogue is in Spanish, i.e., those parts that would have been spoken by the Sharks and their community. Also, both the Jets and Sharks appear a bit less like choir boys although that could have been carried farther.

Nonetheless, what stole the show was the firery performance by Karen Olivo as Anita followed by Josefina Scaglione, a 21 year old actress from Buenos Aires who is the new Maria. (Scaglione was nominated for a Tony award for best actress in a musical but didn't win.)

Olivo's passion, dancing, singing -- you name it -- went beyond flawless. Every review in Washington and later in New York clearly pegged her as the star of the show and the Wall Street Journal went so far as to call Olivo's performance "blowtorch hot."

So, why is this significant?

At the age of six, Karen Olivo became enamored with Anita played by Rita Moreno in the movie version of West Side Story. She got to play the role at her high school in central Florida from which she graduated in 1994.

Olivo made her way to Broadway, starting as an understudy in Rent where she met her husband and then went on to a critically acclaimed performance in In the Heights which she gave up to take a chance on West Side Story.

Sunday night a stunned and often speechless Olivo cried during her acceptance speech -- a note of humility not lost on the masses -- but just as important were the cheers from the Orlando area moms and dads from her high school theater days (the Florida version of the KYPAC moms here in Kenosha) who knew that someday she'd make it.

In that teary acceptance speech Olivo said that dreams can come true and it's obvious that she's living proof.

So the next time you see some talented kid giving it his or her best, there's nothing wrong with encouraging them to move forward. It can happen.

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