VCOS: This isn’t the first time you’ve done West Side Story. Tell me about what you did in past performances.
PATRICK: I was in the Broadway revival and played Indio and understudied for Chino. I was 20 when I joined so I was a lot younger! After that closed I did the first national tour as a swing. So that was from 2011 to 2013.
VCOS: While you were in those versions of the show, were you observing the actors playing Bernardo enough to get an idea for what you would do to play the role yourself?
PATRICK: Yeah, definitely. I think on the tour I played all of the Sharks except for Bernardo, so I got to see different actors have their take on the character, and the whole time that I was watching I had ideas and made choices about what I would do if I ever got the opportunity to play him.
VCOS: Do you see Bernardo as a good guy, a good guy who went bad, a tragic hero, or maybe something else? How do you view him?
PATRICK: As an actor, you have to approach your character the way it is presented within the context of the story, but I think that he honestly is a good human being in doing the best that he can, considering the circumstances. He moved his family from Puerto Rico to America for financial reasons, to better his family and to take care of his family. On the first day he arrived, the script says that he was jumped by the Jets, just because of the color of his skin. So naturally, he builds up this racial resentment towards the Jets because that’s what he was presented with. So he’s acting the way any normal human being would. If it were me, I would objectively look at it and think that not all white people are like that, but he isn’t like that.
VCOS: Here’s an interesting notion about West Side Story. Since the Jets are introduced first, audiences get a pre-determined opinion that they are the protagonists and the Sharks are the intruders and aggressors. Would that be any different if the Sharks were the first ones on the stage and the Jets were the intruders? The audience needs to identify with someone and has to root for one side or the other. It’s hard to look at the conflict between the gangs dispassionately; they have to pick one side or the other and the Jets came first. How does this affect your portrayal of Bernardo?
PATRICK: Part of this is because the Jets have the majority of the stage time, so there’s not a lot of time for the audience to get to know and learn to like the Sharks. We’re only on the stage for fighting, hating, and aggression.
VCOS: Of course, you do see a lighter side to them in the “America” sequence and with Anita and Maria in “I Feel Pretty.”
PATRICK: In the few scenes that Bernardo is in, there are ways where he shows love and caring when he breaks up Tony and Maria kissing at the dance. That’s coming partly from love and protection for his sister. He thinks she’s going to be taken advantage of or raped because he’s not sure what the Jets are capable of doing. So I’m trying to use his aggression as kind of an expression of protection for Maria and that he is still coming from a good place.
VCOS: What does Bernardo think of Chino?
PATRICK: I think he chooses and approves of Chino because Chino is bland and safe and follows rules, so he knows Maria is going to be safe with him. He doesn’t care if she’s feeling love for someone, he just wants her to be safe.
VCOS: Do you see him as proud as well as angry?
PATRICK: Yes, I think so. He has a lot of integrity, being the leader of his group so people look up to him. So he does have that stature of leadership. I’m part Puerto Rican and they have a lot of integrity and pride about who they are and where they come from.
VCOS: What differences are there between this version and the ones you’ve been associated with?
PATRICK: In the revival, there was both English and Spanish used, which was an interesting take, but it’s nice to revisit the classic, standard version. It’s also really nice to have Karl’s choreography, which is his original work, so that’s refreshing. And also, a new, fun part about being in this production is how young the cast is. We’ve got kids who are 18, 20 years old in this show, so it’s refreshing to see their reactions to his story about love and hate because it shows the timelessness of the story and how it’s still impactful, so it’s really cool to see it happening through their eyes.
5-Star Theatricals’ West Side Story opens Friday, July 26 at the Fred Kavli Theatre. For dates and showtimes, see the VC On Stage Calendar.