How ‘West Side Story’ Star David Alvarez Went From 14-Year-Old Tony Winner to the Army and Back Again

When West Side Story star David Alvarez was serving in the US Army, he was keeping a secret. He didn't tell any of his comrades that he was a ballet dancer who, when he was just 14 years old, won a Tony for his work in "Billy Elliott the Musical".
“I've never told anyone about my past,” Alvarez, now 27, tells me on this week's episode of Just for Variety. “Nobody knew that I was a dancer, an actor or a singer. I felt like I wanted to be like everyone else on my train. I just wanted to be a soldier and I didn't want to be treated or perceived differently. I just wanted to be one of the group. "
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He had a few more stage appearances after the army, but then he quietly left the shop to go to college to become a philosophy professor. His plans changed three years ago when he received a DM on Instagram from casting director Cindy Tolan while backpacking Mexico. “She said, 'Hey, I was trying to look for you. Where have you been? ‘Because I disappeared from the art world for a while,” recalls Alvarez. "The message said, 'Hey, Steven Spielberg is doing' West Side Story '.'
Not only did he get the role, but his work deserves well-deserved awards.
“I get so many messages from old army friends who say, 'What's wrong? What do you do? Why are you on this poster? Why are you in this film? ‘" Says Alvarez. “And now I've spilled the beans a bit. I'm like, 'You know what? I've never told you that before, but I was a ballet dancer before the army. ‘"
This time, Alvarez says, he's staying in business and hoping to return to Broadway. “I can't wait to be on stage again. I miss it. Every night I go to bed and think about how amazing it was doing "Billy Elliott" and being on that stage and feeling that energy and controlling this audience. There is no other feeling, ”he says. “I'm waiting for the right role. I am waiting for the right time. And I promise you I'll be back on Broadway. "
Bernardo's friend Anita is played by Ariana DeBose. “She is the greatest dancer I've ever seen in my life and she has so much power, so much power,” enthuses Alvarez about his co-star. “She taught me so much. And the nice thing is that I first met her on the call back in New York. There was an immediate connection. And I think it was because we both understood each other in such a way that we wanted to lift each other up. "
In contrast to the original "West Side Story", all colored characters are played by brown and black actors. “Steven Spielberg is a leader and sets a good example,” says Alvarez. “And it will open the doors of the entire film industry to the people of color, to the Latin community. And he did that because everyone's going to see, 'Oh, Steven does this. Then maybe it is time the rest of the world did it too.' It's a revolutionary thing that happens to this movie, and me I am so proud and grateful to be a part of it. "
The release of "West Side Story" is a bit bittersweet after the death of Stephen Sondheim on November 26th at the age of 91. Alvarez remembers meeting the music legend while filming. "We had to sit down and talk a bit and he would tell his stories and what he thought 'West Side Story' meant to him," he says. “He's always thinking, 'Oh, I could have done better, or I could have done better.” He's never satisfied. He always thinks he can do better and bring something even more fancy to the table. He's just one of those artists who really scrutinizes and reminds you to be honest, to be grounded, and to do it out of love and passion. "
You can hear the full interview with Alvarez above. You can also find “Just for Variety” on Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen to your favorite podcasts.
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