West Side Story Packemin

Perusing Luigi Lucente’s CV, the volume and diversity of the artistic credits he’s chalked up to date is impressive.

Audiences may know of Lucente from his time in blockbuster musicals Wicked, Jersey Boys or The Rocky Horror Show. Many may have also seen him perform in less commercial offerings, including Assassins and The Last Five Years.

In 2015, Lucente highly impressed the Sydney theatre community, playing Eddie Birdlace in Neil Gooding Productions’ stage adaptation of Dogfight at the Hayes Theatre. A year earlier, he was touring the country for a sell-out season of his self-penned one-man cabaret show, Jim Morrison: Kaleidoscope, examining the frontman of one of rock music’s most revered bands.

Lucente has also appeared on television screens, including roles in Neighbours and the World War II-focused series The Pacific, as well as a number of short films.

Asked about his sundry stage and TV credits, Lucente says: “I’m the kind of person who goes with the wind a bit… I’m always open to new challenges. I think that’s what we need to do as artists. We need to reinvent ourselves and be willing to push the boundaries of what we would normally do because everything always leads to something else.”

Later this week, Lucente will take the stage in his next role – Tony in Packemin Productions’ West Side Story.

“Tony’s an incredible role that I’ve always wanted to play,” he tells Theatre People. “It’s so incredibly well written.

“It’s rare to find that kind of ingénue role that has so much depth to it. I look at the role and don’t just see the Romeo aspect. I see a former gang member. I see a guy who is trying to do the best by everyone else in his community, but still strives for what he really thinks will be right for him too. And he’s let down at every single turn.

“I think it’s such a rich text and the score’s incredible. There’s rarely a role that’s written better for a young man.”

Like his co-star, Elisa Colla (who spoke to Theatre People last week), Lucente joined rehearsals for West Side Story much later than most of the cast. “Elisa and I have come in in the past couple of weeks… It’s meant a lot of extra work on our behalf to get the show under our skin and to really know our stuff.”

Fortunately, the pair aren’t strangers to one another, and Lucente says that’s assisted them during their condensed rehearsal period. “Elisa and I met performing in Wicked, so we have worked together before, which is fantastic. It’s made this working relationship feel very easy,” he says.

“She’s a real joy to work with, and it’s meant that we could really jump into exploring this romantic relationship as Tony and Maria.”

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Luigi Lucente is Tony in Packemin’s West Side Story

Discussing the greatest challenges that come with playing Tony, Lucente says: “It’s a vocally demanding show, probably not in terms of its range per se, but more in sitting in that musical style. It’s not quite operatic, but there’s such a lusciousness in this kind of singing. The melody lines are almost orchestral.

“So it’s about sitting within the music. I feel like a lot of contemporary musical theatre is sung in a very different way, where it’s more aggressive. This requires a really strong vocal technique and really long lines, and I feel like a lot of the subtext is all there within the music because it’s quite a rich tapestry. That’s demanding.”

Lucente is working to ensure that while he’s faithful to the intentions of West Side Story’s creators, he will imprint his own stamp on Tony. “Everyone knows this score. People come in with an idea of how it’s going to sound,” he says.

“So it’s about being true to how it was originally written…but also finding the nuance, and finding the intentions and the flavours and colours that I’m going to bring to the role. That’s what excites [me] about doing West Side Story – I get to play this classic role, but do it in the way that is going to resonate with me.”

While he’s already shared a stage with Colla, Lucente’s working with the show’s two other professional cast mates for the first time, and is excited to have that opportunity.

“Rowena [Villar] is a fantastic talent,” he says. “I haven’t worked with her before, but admired her from afar in the many shows she’s done.

“We’ve also got Tony Cogin as Doc, who’s a great grounding force within this piece.”

In working with the Packemin cast, Lucente describes feeling a strong sense of every participant wanting to gain something from their West Side Story experience, regardless of their novice or professional status. He’s thoroughly enjoying this time. “I’m really liking this process because it’s taking the best of both worlds,” he says, and explains: “You’ve got people in there who are obviously seasoned professionals…but they’re joined by people who are up-and-comers, who are doing it for the passion and the love…I think it makes for an environment that’s a reminder of where we all started in some ways, but also affirms that we’re doing it because we love it.

“The production values are second to none. We’re getting a fully staged musical in one of the largest venues in Sydney. It’s kind of a no brainer being a professional coming on board in a production like this because West Side Story is such a classic musical and it’s such a great opportunity.”

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Elisa Colla and Luigi Lucente

Talking about times ahead, you get the strong sense Lucente’s future work will be every bit as varied as the credits he’s amassed to date. He tells Theatre People he plans to continue writing, potentially creating another cabaret show or other works with new collaborators.

“I’m also looking forward to workshopping some new Australian work too,” he adds. “I think that’s really important. When there’s a chance and when there’s time to be involved in something like that, it’s good to promote that home-grown [talent]. I think we have to be proactive about it because if professionals don’t get behind the writers and new works, then how do we expect it to trickle down into the rest of the industry?”

Three years ago, Lucente played the title role in Magnormos’ production of Pippin in Melbourne. With rumours continuing to swirl of an Australian production of the recent critically acclaimed and Tony Award-winning revival, would he be interested in revisiting that role?

“Absolutely,” he says. “Pippin was an incredible opportunity…We had the fortunate scenario of actually doing the revival script and orchestrations…”

Not only that, but Lucente and his castmates also had the privilege of their own extended audience with Pippin’s composer, Stephen Schwarz. “He sat in on the rehearsal process and it was incredible to hear insights into this new revival from him,” he says.

“It was a brilliant opportunity, and if the chance was there to perform in Pippin again, I would certainly jump at it. I think, again, it’s such a rich show and it’s themes, musical styles and script have grown over time, and I think today it can resonate with audiences even more than it did 40 years ago.”

Returning the conversation to West Side Story, why does Lucente think audiences should visit Parramatta’s Riverside Theatres in the coming weeks?

West Side Story is the ultimate classic Broadway musical. It is the greatest love story every told. It combines one of the best scores with some of the most iconic choreography with the most beautiful script and story, and if you haven’t experienced West Side Story yet, I think this is the chance to do it.

“And if you have experienced West Side Story before, why not come and revisit it? It’s such a timeless work.”

Packemin Productions’ West Side Story plays at the Riverside Theatres, Parramatta from 5 – 20 February. To book tickets, click here.

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