'West Side Story' keeps former Chicago dancer on his toes

When it comes to dance as an art form, Brooklyn native and former Giordano Dance Chicago performer Anthony Raimondi has “always wanted to do a little bit of everything.”

That's exactly what Raimondi, 24, is doing as a company member of the national tour of “West Side Story.” A touring version of the 2009 Broadway revival returns to Chicago in a non-Equity production for an eight-performance run at the Oriental Theatre from Tuesday through Sunday, June 11-16.

Raimondi is one of the tour's “swings,” a performer who understudies multiple roles. For Raimondi, that's a whopping nine, playing gang members from both the rival Jets and Sharks in the landmark 1957 “Romeo and Juliet”-inspired musical featuring a beloved score by Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim with Jerome Robbins' iconic choreography.

“I started out with concert dance and I loved it,” said Raimondi about his time with the second company of Giordano Dance Chicago during the 2011-12 season. “But then I saw the audition call for ‘West Side Story' and I thought to myself, ‘Why not give it a try?' It's one of those shows that as a dancer, you've always wanted to do and learn the choreography because it's so athletic and exciting.”

Raimondi got over his initial fears of adding singing on top of his dance abilities during auditions and was grateful to make it through. During rehearsals, Raimondi caught the eye of choreographer Joey McKneely (“The Life,” “Jerome Robbins' Broadway”), who has been entrusted by the Robbins estate to re-create the original “West Side Story” choreography.

McKneely assigned Raimondi to be one of the tour's dance captains, a person who leads the company in warm-ups and who “makes sure that the choreography maintains its original artistic integrity on tour.”

“What was so great about working with Joey is that he was so intense with us,” Raimondi said. “He forced us to feel the pain, and the anger and the frustrations of being a gang member.”

Raimondi is contracted with “West Side Story” through July, and he hopes to be able to do more musical theater beyond his initial foray in the art form with excursions in creating choreography and concert dance, too.

“I know a lot more in the concert dance field ... but I think (musical theater) is a lot more challenging, which makes me like it even more,” Raimondi said. “The choreography (for ‘West Side Story') is some of the most athletic combinations of movement that I've ever had the privilege to work on.”

Members of the Jets gang let off some steam in the number “Cool” in the national tour of “West Side Story.” Courtesy of Carol Rosegg
Members of the Jets gang let off some steam in the number “Cool” in the national tour of “West Side Story.” Courtesy of Carol Rosegg

“West Side Story”

<b>Location: </b>Oriental Theatre, 24 W. Randolph St., Chicago, (800) 775-2000, <a href=""></a>

<b>Showtimes: </b>Tuesday to Sunday, June 11-16: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, 2 and 7:30 p.m. Sunday

<b>Tickets:</b> $18-$85

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