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Nov 2, 2012

Have You Met My Good Friend Maria?

By Michal Jansen Miller

WEST SIDE STORY brings a stunningly young and energetic cast of eager Broadway-ready performers to Lexington in November in one of the most talked about revivals in years. Many of them are on the road for the first time in a potentially career-propelling national tour. This is the kind of opportunity young artists dream about.

It’s been MaryJoanna Grisso’s dream since she jotted down “Maria” on her list of roles she would one day like to play.“It is an amazing gift. An honor,” she humbly exclaimed when I talked to her recently by phone in the bus en route to her final days of rehearsal. She had just gotten the news a few weeks prior that she had landed the role.

She graduated just last year with a BFA in vocal performance from West Virginia University and moved to New York City. Happy to get a job in retail sales to pay the rent while she went from audition to audition. Dance classes. Voice coaches.

In only a few months she found herself back in the same audition space she had shuffled to countless times with her “rolling suitcase and hair in curlers”. Only this time, it was not to audition. It was to rehearse. In her first national tour in the role of Maria.

Asking her what she has found most challenging about the rehearsal process, I expected to hear about the long hours, endless choreography sessions, and strained vocal chords. She mentioned taking care of her voice and sustaining energy, but what has surprised her most has been a more personal journey.

“I didn’t know if I would be able to bring out the anger that is required of Maria in the last part of the show,” she says. “I’m not an angry person.”

But as the cast came together the intensity of the material began to take over. A side of her was unleashed she didn’t know existed.

Now she’s ready for the role. And the road.

“Vitamins, ear plugs, hot tea,” she lists. “And granola bars.”

MaryJoanna has left the for-now NYC job in retail sales. She’ll be performing on stage every night in Madame Lucia’s bridal shop for months to come. Feeling very pretty, indeed. And a little fierce.

“When love comes so strong,
There is no right or wrong,
Your love is your life.”
-Stephen Sondheim