The art of nasty: How a mild-mannered Randolph teen becomes gang member in ‘West Side Story’ at MPAC, June 2-4

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Being mean doesn’t come naturally to Christian Harvey.

To play Action, an in-your-face gang member, in West Side Story at Morristown’s Mayo Performing Arts Center, the Randolph teenager had to create some muscle memory.

Christian Harvey (Action) puts up his dukes in MPAC production of West Side Story, June 2017. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Christian Harvey (Action) puts up his dukes in MPAC production of West Side Story, June 2017. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

“Before the show, I’ve made a walk for Action, which is very grounded and very grungy,” said Harvey, 17. “I feel that once I do that walk, his soul almost surrounds me.”

More than 40 young performers surround Harvey in this show, MPAC’s fifth annual spring production, which runs from June 2-4, 2017. Harvey has appeared in all five, starting with Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.

After graduating from Randolph High School this month, he will prepare for the Boston Conservatory at the Berklee College of Music, to study musical theater in the fall.

Director Cathy Roy, who has directed every MPAC spring production, appreciates Harvey’s skillful transformation in West Side Story.

“One of the biggest joys of watching this show is seeing him work on stage, seeing how he’s landing,” she said. “Every ounce of his being is in the character. He just put himself into this show, and developed a really interesting character.”

Christian Harvey as ‘Action’; slideshow photos by Kevin Coughlin

Christian Harvey, lower right, in MPAC production of West Side Story, June 2017. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Christian Harvey (Action) puts up his dukes in MPAC production of West Side Story, June 2017. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
The Jets: Christian Harvey as Action, second from right, in MPAC production of West Side Story, June 2017. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Jeff Lawless (Riff) airs it out with fellow Jet Christian Harvey (Action) in MPAC production of West Side Story, June 2017. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Jeff Lawless (Riff), left, and Christian Harvey (Action) in MPAC production of West Side Story, June 2017. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Christian Harvey, left, in MPAC production of West Side Story, June 2017. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Christian Harvey, left, in MPAC production of West Side Story, June 2017. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Christian Harvey, as Action, attacks Nile Birch's character in MPAC production of West Side Story, June 2017. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
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STRONG NOSTRILS

Harvey has been performing since he was 8 years old and enjoys singing. However, his big number, Gee, Officer Krupke, where the Jets gang highlights its adversities, has tested him.

“What’s difficult about this song is that it is very nasal,” he said. This requires a good vocal warm-up, and “throwing everything into the nose.”

The Jets: Christian Harvey as Action, second from right, in MPAC production of West Side Story, June 2017. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
The Jets: Christian Harvey as Action, second from right, in MPAC production of West Side Story, June 2017. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

And the vigorous dancing in West Side Story demands good physical conditioning.

“We are doing the original Broadway choreography, so it’s even more challenging,” said Harvey, who watched YouTube videos of the original dance routines to prepare.

Yet the rigors of rehearsal have been offset by the cast’s strong camaraderie, Harvey said.

“I think bringing those friendships we have off-stage onto the stage was really fluid,” said the actor, who credits his costume–a plain Hanes tee shirt, slacks and Converse sneakers–with helping him don Action’s persona.

West Side Story, slideshow photos by Kevin Coughlin

Scott McCreary (Tony) and Alessandra Le Pera (Maria) in MPAC production of 'West Side Story,' June 2017. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Maria (Alessandra Le Pera) and Anita (Lauren Csete) in MPAC production of 'West Side Story,' June 2017. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
The Jets: Christian Harvey as Action, second from right, in MPAC production of West Side Story, June 2017. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Riff (Jeff Lawless) and Tony (Scott McCreary) in MPAC production of 'West Side Story,' June 2017. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Bernardo and Anita in MPAC production of 'West Side Story,' June 2017. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Maria (Alessandra Le Pera) and Tony (Scott McCreary) in MPAC production of 'West Side Story,' June 2017. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Scott McCreary as Tony in MPAC production of 'West Side Story,' June 2017. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
MPAC production of 'West Side Story,' June 2017. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Christian Harvey, lower right, in MPAC production of West Side Story, June 2017. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
'America' dance in MPAC production of 'West Side Story,' June 2017. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Anybodys in MPAC production of 'West Side Story,' June 2017. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Rachel Levy in MPAC production of 'West Side Story,' June 2017. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Nile Birch and friend in MPAC production of 'West Side Story,' June 2017. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Christian Harvey, left, in MPAC production of West Side Story, June 2017. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Anybodys rescues Tony from scene of crime in MPAC production of 'West Side Story,' June 2017. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Riff gets cut in MPAC production of 'West Side Story,' June 2017. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
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THE TAKE-AWAY

Sixty years have passed since West Side Story’s Off-Broadway premiere, but Harvey believes its themes still apply.

“Especially at this time in our history, its message is so relevant. People always want to think that we’ve moved forward from racial inequality, but, to be honest, we really haven’t.”

West Side Story‘s theme of love overcoming hate is something Harvey hopes the audience takes home.

Roy admires his dedication.

“He’s such a hard worker. He commands the stage, and sets such a fine example,” the director said. “It’s great that this is his swan song.”

Christian Harvey, lower right, in MPAC production of West Side Story, June 2017. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Christian Harvey, lower right, in MPAC production of West Side Story, June 2017. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

Harvey feels bittersweet about saying goodbye to his MPAC family–and especially to Roy.

“She really builds the show so organically,” Harvey said. “She’s a really great leader and I really do aspire to be like her one day.”

Still, he is excited about the future.

“I’ve always had the travel bug, so I’m hoping that my career allows me to travel the country or travel the world,” Harvey said.

He’ll embark with self-knowledge gleaned from West Side Story.

“I’ve learned how to trust my instincts and carry my confidence,” Harvey said. “I’ve also learned a lot from the theme of love trumping hate.”

Kevin Coughlin contributed to this report.

West Side Story, at the Mayo Performing Arts Center, Friday, June 2, 2017, at 7:30 pm; Saturday, June 3, at 2 pm and 7:30 pm; and Sunday, June 4, at 2 pm. Tickets: $20-25. At 100 South St., Morristown, 973-539-8008.

MORE ABOUT ‘WEST SIDE STORY’ AT MPAC

 

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