New York's City Center can be a dark and unwelcoming place on a Friday afternoon. The recently restored interior is obscured by shadows and the only light comes from the merciless worklights over the stage which only partially illuminate the two performers beneath them. Yet, even through these shadows, the admirable skills of two Broadway veterans are evident as they recreate their roles in WEST SIDE STORY. Both actors appeared in this musical classic over forty years ago at Lincoln Center.
Kurt Peterson and Victoria Mallory achieved great acclaim for their performances as Tony and Maria in the Leonard Bernstein/Stephen Sondheim musical masterpiece. It led the two of them to other major roles in what some consider to be the "Golden Age" of Broadway. It was a time before ill-suited television stars were cast in shows solely for the marquee value of their names. Between them, Peterson and Mallory appeared in DEAR WORLD, FOLLIES, A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC. There were also significant regional productions of CARNIVAL!, COMPANY and THE FANTASTICKS and the still talked-about SONDHEIM: A MUSICAL TRIBUTE which Kurt produced. It should also be mentioned that Kurt was featured in THE BAKER'S WIFE; the musical that seemed to try-out forever before giving up the ghost and never making it to New York. At this rehearsal, though, the two of them are preparing for a one-night concert titled, WHEN EVERYTHING WAS POSSIBLE: A CONCERT WITH COMMENTS.
The WEST SIDE STORY segment is receiving the most attention from director Larry Moss at this point. Under his guidance, the two mature performers are revisiting their roles of love-smitten teens. It's the first time they've gone back to these parts since 1968. Victoria Mallory has just spoken some scripted introductory lines as herself and in a split second she assumes an Hispanic accent and the demeanor of a young Puerto Rican girl. The transformation is astonishing.
Kurt Peterson pulls off a similar achievement. In no time at all he becomes a Polish-American teenaged boy, singing with a voice that is virile, supple and blending beautifully with Mallory's still-lustrous lyric soprano. They are so effective that it is easy to imagine them reprising these roles in a full scale concert of the show. Heck, if Jose Carreras and Kiri Te Kanawa could record these roles under Bernstein's baton, why shouldn't Peterson and Mallory perform it in a complete concert?
Peterson's office is diagonally across the street from the City Center. It's a comfortable place and well suited to a conversation with the singers. The two friends are happy to discuss their careers and the upcoming (April 29th) concert. They also discuss their friendship.
The two met in school. "It was the first day at AMDA-the American Musical and Dramatic Academy here in New York," Peterson remarks. Mallory continues, "It was a small school on 23rd Street and 2nd Ave in 1966. Our class had maybe twelve or thirteen people in it. AMDA is much larger now and is all over the city. Our small class allowed for us to do some incredibly intimate work. It was a fabulous school with great teachers." Peterson recalls that the first time he heard Mallory sing, she performed "Yes, My Heart" from CARNIVAL!-a musical she eventually starred in at City Center when it was presenting full-scale revivals.
Peterson and Mallory did plenty of work together at AMDA, but their first truly professional work they did as a team was Lincoln Center's WEST SIDE STORY. Mallory looks back on the experience with great fondness for the rehearsal period. "We were directed by Lee Theodore Becker, who had been the original Anybody's. She was just fantastic to work for. She put the complete original staging up and brought in all the nuances. You know, all those incredibly character driven moments. There was motivation for every movement. She was very generous to us, too. She was supportive and it was a fresh experience for her to work with two young people; I was only nineteen years old and Kurt was twenty. It's an extraordinary show and being part of the rehearsal process where the direction was very specific and disciplined, where we worked hard and had the thrill of having Leonard Bernstein come in, well, I can't describe what that was like!"