German Santiagowho plays Bernardo in the current touring production of West Side Storyjust arrived in Chicago. Along with a background in Broadway that includes shows such as Evita, South Pacific and The Music Man, he also has television and movie experience. In West Side Story, German is the leading "Shark" in the water.
Windy City Times: Hola, German. How long have you been touring with this show?
German Santiago: It has been for about eight or nine months.
WCT: I just spoke with Rita Moreno today and she wanted me to send you and Michelle Aravena, who plays Anita, her best wishes.
GS: Amazing. It is funny because people say Michelle is channeling Rita Moreno.
WCT: I can hardly wait to see that. You play a Puerto Rican but you are actually from Mexico City, correct?
GS: Yes, I was born in Mexico City. When I was six years old my parents brought me to the States. I lived in Houston, Texas up until about six years ago when I moved to Los Angeles.
WCT: Did you study theatre in Texas?
GS: I studied musical theatre and acting. I went to a school close to Houston. It was a state school called Sam Houston State University. At that time they had the only musical theatre program in Texas so I decided to go for it and they offered me a scholarship. I didn't grow up with a lot of money so I took what was offered.
WCT: You have played Pepe in West Side Story before but what led you to the touring show?
GS: To be honest with you, I didn't audition for the New York cast because I didn't know about the audition. I had taken a break from theatre and was in L.A. pursuing my TV/film career. That was the direction I was going and where I want to end up no matter what. I had stopped dancing for about five years. My agent came across the audition and he told me about it on a Friday, the audition was on a Monday. After auditioning in LA then they asked me to fly to New York to meet the director, producer and writer. They offered me the role on the spot.
WCT: I heard a dialect coach helped the cast speak a little more Puerto Rican.
GS: Some of us speak Spanish but we are from different Latin American backgrounds. We all had to sound like we were from the same place. The coach refined everybody into one dialect. She was great to work with.
WCT: Is the character Bernardo similar to you in any way?
GS: No. I am a pretty chill guy. I have a lot of patience. I am on the quest for Zen where Bernardo is not. He's very aggressive and volatile. He's in an environment where he constantly has to watch his back. In his time period you didn't know if people were looking at you in a certain way because you are Puerto Rican and have brown skin, especially in the neighborhood he is in.
If he resembles anything close to me then I would say he is similar to one of my brothers. One of my brothers got into gangs when were growing up. I was involved but never got initiated thank goodness. I saw my brother almost get his head blown off with a gun. This was not why my parents came to this country so I dove a hundred percent into my schoolwork. Eventually I became involved in theatre.
WCT: That's a big journey.
GS: It is. When people look at me or talk to me they would never think that is where I come from. Experiences like that change you. You have a different appreciation of life when a lethal weapon is pointed at your head.
WCT: With West Side Story, people can still relate to the gangs and violence.
GS: Of course, it is still going on. People can relate to three big things in West Side Story. Loving someone with the deepest foundation of your core, prejudice, for not being liked for something they are and third for their love not being accepted by someone else, whether a family member or a friend.
WCT: There have been a few changes in the show?
GS: The biggest change is there is Spanish in the show. It is only about ten percent of it. It is mostly when the Puerto Ricans are around each other. Audiences will still understand what is going on in the scene and what they are talking about. It won't lose them but at first might surprise people. People might be looking for subtitles but they aren't there. It will seem more authentic though with Spanish a part of it.
WCT: How was making the movie Every Little Step?
GS: It was an interesting experience. What you have to remember is with movies they are at the mercy of the editors. It is always interesting to see the final cut versus what actually occurred. It really helped me grow in many ways.
WCT: You got to be on the television show Medium with Patricia Arquette.
GS: She's fantastic and a sweetheart. It was nice that it was a season finale episode. Everybody was cool on set.
WCT: What was the difference of doing that and a novella on Telemundo's La Ley Del Silencio?
GS: [Laughs] It is not that much of a difference it is just in Spanish. It is a little bit different style of acting. I always think when you are around fun good people then its all great.
WCT: Was that filmed in L.A.?
GS: No, first in Houston then in Florida.
WCT: And Dante's Cove?
GS: My favorite part Dante's Cove was staying in Hawaii. I only had ten days of shooting in a span of five weeks the rest of the time I got to play. It was like a paid vacation.
WCT: Do you get tired of all of this touring and traveling?
GS: It all depends. I like to have a place called home but it is a challenge for all of us on the tour traveling so consistently. When you do six weeks of one week shows then it does take a toll on you. Tour life is not for everybody!
West Side Story runs through Sunday, Aug. 14, at the Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 W. Randolph St. Visit www.broadwayinchicago.com for tickets and show times.