‘West Side Story’ a wild ride for Lincoln’s Daniels

‘West Side Story’ a wild ride for Lincoln’s Daniels

Grace Cuellar, of Providence, plays Maria, and Mike Daniels, of Lincoln, is Tony in the Stadium Theatre’s production of “West Side Story.”

WOONSOCKET – Grace Cuellar and Mike Daniels have amazingly similar stories to tell about their auditions for “West Side Story.” They will be working opposite each other as Maria and Tony in the iconic musical next weekend, Feb. 16-18, at the Stadium Theatre in Woonsocket.

“It was actually a very last-minute audition for me,” said Cuellar. She had just finished a production of “The Hunchback of Notre Dame.” She was tired, and not sure she could tackle another show. But she decided to give it a shot.

“I sang ‘I Could Have Danced All Night’ with a Puerto Rican accent,” said the 17-year-old Providence actor. “I was hoping for Maria, and I actually felt good when I left. It was the first time I left an audition feeling confident.”

Daniels was at a cast party for “American Idiot” when someone told him he should audition for “West Side Story.”

“I told them I can’t dance,” said the 26-year-old Lincoln actor. “They said, ‘You should audition to be Tony.’ And I said, ‘Oh, he doesn’t dance a lot?’” So he decided to audition. “I would have accepted any role, so I wrote ‘Tony or any other role’ on my audition sheet.”

Both say they’re humbled and excited to be playing the roles of star-crossed lovers. The musical, based on “Romeo & Juliet,” is almost 60 years old, and tells the story of a love that crosses ethnic and economic barriers with tragic consequences. Maria’s brother is the leader of the Sharks, a Puerto Rican gang. Tony used to be a Jet, the neighborhood’s white gang, and his best friend is the current leader of that gang.

“I had heard of the show,” says Cuellar, “but I didn’t really know much about it. I watched the movie the day before my audition.” Daniels’ only experience with the show was when his music class watched the movie in 6th or 7th grade.

“Mike and I spend a lot of time together outside of rehearsals,” says Cuellar. “We have a lot of scenes together. We work on building our characters.”

Both actors recall their “aha!” moment – that time when they were bitten by the acting bug.

For Daniels, it came when he saw “Titanic” in a movie theater. “It was the first movie I saw in a theater, and I remember looking at Leonardo DiCaprio and thinking, ‘He’s a rock star. I want to do this.’”

Daniels participated in drama club at Lincoln High School and in his senior year, 2008-2009, was one of the four emcees for the school’s annual variety show.

Cuellar’s moment came when she and her brother David attended Camp Broadway at the Providence Performing Arts Center a few summers ago. “I’ve been singing my whole life, ever since I can remember,” she says. “But Camp Broadway added dancing and acting, and I really enjoyed it. I really feel a strong passion for musical theater.”

For both, the show has been a lot of hard work. “But it’s so much fun,” says Cuellar. “You really get close to everyone. We become a big family.”

Daniels ended up learning “so much more about dance than I ever thought I’d learn. I’m just lucky to be here. Everyone has so much energy when we get up on the stage. It’s been a wild ride.”

The Stadium Theatre presents “West Side Story,” Friday through Sunday, Feb. 16, 17 and 18. For tickets and information, call the box office at 401-762-4545 or visit www.stadiumtheatre.com .