Caption: PAIGE FRASER-HOFFMAN during a dance performance.
This highly anticipated music event, featuring nearly 100 artists, returns to Chicago’s biggest stage.
“West Side Story” features Tony and Maria, wide-eyed teenagers from two conflicting communities, who fall in love. As their friends and family fight each other, Tony and Maria yearn for “a place for us…somewhere.”
Their songs light up every scene and permeate our culture, from the romance of “Maria” and “Tonight” to the exuberance of “America” and the humor of “Gee, Officer Krupke.”
Add to that Jerome Robbins’ bold, sexy and iconic choreography that burns and sizzles with energy, and you have a timeless musical theater experience audiences will never forget.
He Crossed reached out to Paige Fraser-Hoffman, who plays Velma, a ballerina, and who has been dancing since she was four years old, to dive into her past.
In 2019, after touring in New York, she was a dancer with Visceral Dance Chicago and the last Chicago production she did was as a guest artist with Deeply Rooted Dance Theatre.
Later, in 2019, he booked the “Lion King – Rafiki” tour.
And she is not new to this lyrical production. “This is the second time I’ve done ‘West Side Story’ at the Lyric Opera. I was so excited when I booked it in 2019, when I played the role of Minnie, that it was a Jet, and I have the same feeling now. It was the first musical I booked, after years of working concert/dance companies in New York and Chicago.
“I have evolved a lot since the last time I did this show, not only as an artist, but as a person. I really want to approach this program with more life experience.”
Fraser-Hoffman’s Velma is also a Jet. “It’s been so much fun making different choices as an actress and learning from this phenomenal star-studded cast. They are all so inspiring!”
She is delighted that “West Side Story” has such a varied cast. “I think it’s great that [the musical] has diversified the cast, not only giving African-Americans the opportunity to be a part of the iconic production, but also making it even more relatable to the world we live in today.”
She spoke of other productions in which she has been involved. “I am also honored to have been a part of the cast of ‘The Lion King’ on Broadway. It is one of the only shows on Broadway to feature a predominantly African-American cast, which also casts South Africans and Pacific Islanders. I look forward to seeing more shows on Broadway with this amount of representation, providing more opportunities for people of color.”
Fraser-Hoffmann is also involved in an eponymous organization which is a non-profit organization based in the Bronx, offering free workshops and programs in the performing arts and wellness.
She serves as the Artistic Director and Director of the Dance Program, and her aunt Lesmah Fraser formed the Paige Fraser Foundation and named it after Fraser-Hoffman’s journey as a dancer with scoliosis.
Classes welcome all abilities, and the organization offers need-based scholarships and partners with community organizations.
“Students who have participated in our free programs have gone on to study and perform at the Juilliard School, the Rock School and the Metropolitan Opera. Our main goal is to open an art and wellness space in the Bronx, New York.”
Artistically, Fraser-Hoffmann is right where he wants to be. “I love musical theater and the freedom it gives us to take advantage of storytelling and make different choices every night. Whether it’s Jet or Lioness, I’m excited to continue to expand my art and hopefully inspire someone in the audience. I would love to one day be the director of a show, so the work continues.”
Other cast members include: Ryan McCartan and Kanisha Marie Feliciano, both making their Lyric debuts, as young lovers Tony and Maria.
Broadway at Lyric fans will salute the return of Amanda Castro and her electric incarnation of the iconic role of Anita, along with Lyric’s original production castmate Brett Thiele in his impassioned portrayal of Riff, the leader of the Jets. .
The production also introduces Chicago audiences to Yurel Echezarreta (Broadway’s Moulin Rouge, Head Over Heels, Aladdin and Steven Spielberg’s “West Side Story”) as Bernardo. Renowned music director James Lowe will conduct this timeless masterpiece with members of the Lyric Opera Orchestra and Chorus.
The production will run June 2-25 at the Lyric Opera House, 20 N. Wacker Drive.
For tickets and more information, visit lyricopera.org/westsidestory.