On a sunny spring afternoon in the pre-pandemic days of February 2020, Burbank native Kevin Zambrano took a selfie in front of a poster of himself that promoted the revival of “West Side Story” at New York City’s Broadway Theatre.
Having been cast in the role of Shark gang member, Moose, Zambrano, a 2014 graduate of Burbank High School, moved to New York in September 2019, began preview performances in December, and experienced what he hopes will be his first opening night on Broadway on Saturday, Feb. 20.
“It was everything I imagined it would be — even more,” said Zambrano. “I would get so much energy from the audience. When we finished each show, I was completely filled with this amazing energy, and then I would walk out of the theater’s stage door with people who were waiting to see the cast and literally be on Broadway.”
The Broadway Theatre, one of the few theaters that is actually located on Broadway, opened in 1924 as a venue for vaudeville shows and motion pictures. In 1928, it was where the public saw Walt Disney’s first Mickey Mouse cartoon, “Steamboat Willie,” and 12 years later where Disney debuted his studio’s first feature film, “Fantasia.” It is a legendary theater on which Milton Berle, Eartha Kitt, Vivien Leigh, Zero Mostel and Mae West have tread her boards.
“There was an incredible energy to it all,” said Zambrano. “New York, the theater itself, the cast, and the show that was presented with a different take based on things that are unfortunately going on in the country right now: the building of the Mexican border wall, police brutality and different races waring against one another.”
Directed by Ivo van Hove and choreographed by Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker, the revival starred Shereen Pimentel as Maria and Isaac Cole Powell as Tony. A fresh take on the show, which originally debuted on Broadway 63 years earlier as a modern day telling of Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet,” the 2020 revival saw the balletic finger-snapping of the original replaced with hip-hop and Latin-influenced dances performed before large video screens.
Produced by Scott Rudin, Barry Diller and David Geffen, the show was just beginning to hit its stride with theater-goers when, on March 12, it came to a sudden halt due to the COVID -19 suspension of all live theater.
“Right after we closed I came back to Burbank right away,” said Zambrano. “I didn’t even consider staying in New York because the city had changed so quickly and dramatically. I just had a sense we would be closed for a while, so I sublet my apartment and came home.”
With a history of performing as a dancer in a local musical theater program when he was just 8, Zambrano continued pursuing his passion when he attended John Muir Middle School. An active fundraiser for the Burbank Arts for All Foundation, he went on to become a stand-out performer in Burbank High School’s show choir and dance team before matriculating at the California Institute of the Arts where he earned a bachelor’s degree in fine arts. After graduating, Zambrano worked in the concert dance world for various companies and appeared in numerous music videos before landing the role in “West Side Story.”
As for the unexpected hiatus he finds himself on, Zambrano said there are pros and cons to it.
“I was so focused on doing the show that I felt my creativity for other things was taking a backseat,” said Zambrano. “So now, without the pressure of doing the show, I have found that my brain has just blown up creatively. I’m a storyteller, so I’ve started writing a book about a talent agency. It’s about change, in so many ways, and it’s rather Pinocchio-esque in that it has a dark underside. I’ve also been writing a musical, directing a dance film, and have started a residency program with Bret Esterling who is a co-artistic director and faculty member at USC.”
Zambrano’s dance theater residency program, Ghost Light Residency, is a partnership with theater venues throughout Los Angeles that specifically aims to assist underrepresented artists financially and creatively by providing them with a $1,000 honorarium and rehearsal time in a theater.
“The residency program concept stemmed from all the empty dance venues and the dancers who have no outlet in which to perform due to the pandemic,” Zambrano explained. “We bring dancers in and just see what happens by providing them with the time and space to experience what they can do — to express their creativity in an empty theater that is filled with the memories of the many performances that took place there.”
As for getting back to New York and resuming his role as Moose, Zambrano said he hopes that happens in the not-too-distant future.
“I really miss being on stage, the cast and dancing in front of such receptive audiences,” he said. “I was just starting that New York life of sleeping in, going out after the shows with friends, taking a dance class — the performer’s life — and I want to get back to that. But, we’re not sure when Broadway will open again, so I’ve already begun to look past ‘West Side Story’ and am using this time to prepare for my future, to do the things I love to do: performing, choreographing and directing the many stories I want to tell.”
For further information and support opportunities for Ghost Light Residency, visit ghostlightresidency.com.
David Laurell may be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or (818) 563-1007.