Thursday, February 22 , 2018, 3:07 am | Fair 36º


Past Rumbles Alive for Julie McLeod

Dance doyenne gets a chance to reprise her role in original West Side Story.


Julie McLeod is a champion of the present-day Santa Barbara dance scene, but at present she’s looking back 50 years to her days as a New York gypsy and workaday dancer who was part of a theatrical explosion.

McLeod was in the original cast of West Side Story, the watershed work that opened on Broadway in 1957 and changed American musical theater forever.

"I was a Jet," she recalled with a laugh. "But sometimes, if someone was sick or turned an ankle, I had to be a Shark, too. I’d come off in my Jet costume, put on darker makeup, change my costume and go back on as a Shark."

The musical, later an equally praised movie, was a new direction for composer Leonard Bernstein  and choreographer Jerome Robbins.

"We were all scared to death before the opening curtain," McLeod recalled, "Jerry Robbins, too. We didn’t know how the audience was going to react after opening night."

The audience, of course, was ecstatic, as were the critics. West Side Story played on Broadway for two years, went on tour for two years, and came back to New York for another two-year run.

During the first run, McLeod said, the boys dancing as Jets and those playing Sharks had separate dressing rooms. The Jet girls and Shark girls shared a dressing room, but divided it along the lines of their gang allegiances.

"The Jets in the show actually were challenged by a real gang, that wanted them to come out and rumble," she recalled. "Of course, they didn’t!"

In December, McLeod will have an opportunity to relive those glory days — depending on the outcome of negotiations between theaters and the striking stagehands union.

"There will be a benefit for Equity Fights AIDS  on Dec. 3 and 4 at the Neil Simon Theatre, honoring the original cast. Members of the cast who are still with us," she paused to give a characteristic McLeod throaty chuckle, "will be flown to New York, have dinner at Sardi’s, stay in a hotel for two days. We will most certainly dance," sharing the stage with young Equity dancers performing the show.

"I am just so tickled," McLeod declared. "A good number (of the original cast) are no longer with us, and some died of AIDS. But we’ll have at least half a cast from the
original show."

Of her appearance in West Side Story, McLeod said, "It was a job, don’t forget. But it was a good job."

Back home in Santa Barbara, McLeod will present a free showing of the film of West Side Story  at 4 p.m. Dec. 16 in the Marjorie Luke Theatre. She expects a full house.

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