Actor goes from 'Web Site Story' to 'West Side Story'

Newport Beach-born actor Kyle Harris wasn't a fan of "West Side Story" while growing up in Orange County, but the musical has since touched his life again and again.

He was selected for the leading role of Tony in the show's touring Broadway production — to arrive at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa on Tuesday — after appearing in a sketch comedy production called "Web Site Story," which appeared on YouTube.

"It's about Tony meeting Maria on Facebook, and it blew up and became viral really fast, which I did not expect at all," the 20-something Harris said in an interview.

And, like Tony, Harris found his life's trajectory changed because of a girl.

The avid soccer player had never considered drama until he was convinced to try out for a show at Woodbridge High School in Irvine.

"I was dating a girl who did musicals, and she said I should do it," Harris said. "I ended up getting bit by the theater bug."

He went on from high school productions to studying theater in Arizona, award-winning stints in New York and regional productions, with roles in "Hair," "Newsies," "Urinetown," "The Who's Tommy" and more — and his star began to rise.

As a cheeky addition to his résumé, Harris noted that he was an excellent stage kisser.

"I threw it on there as a conversation starter, and here we are talking about it," he laughed. "It's definitely one of the perks of my job. Basically, every show I've been in, I've had to kiss a girl. So I put that as a personal skill."

Harris moved to New York after college and began making the requisite rounds at various open-call auditions, not expecting "Web Site Story" to be a game-changer for him at all — but the casting directors loved it.

"I auditioned for the matinee Tony who does two shows a week on Broadway," Harris recalled. "But they told me they wanted to save me for the national tour, which wasn't coming up for like seven months."

Harris didn't take this claim seriously, and assumed he was being given the cold shoulder in the politest way possible. But he soon found himself packing his bags for an epic road trip.

He now spends six nights a week — and two matinees — singing and dancing as star-struck lover Tony across the country.

Harris said his hitherto-mild esteem for "West Side Story" began to change as he got to know it.

"I definitely have a great appreciation for it now," he said, citing its superb blend of story, dancing and music. "There are very few things that are able to come close to it."

He also was surprised at how strenuous it is to travel around the country as part of a touring Broadway production.

"I don't have a 'home' to go home to every night like the actors on Broadway," he said. "That's the hardest part for your body. You don't really have a time to rest, and every theater, hotel room or city has its own kind of mold or allergen. It gets easier as you find your groove and your routine.

"I knew it would be tough, but I didn't know it would be this tough," he added. "I do recommend it for any actor, though, to go through this experience. Playing a Broadway house, it's pretty tiny and quaint. But when you're playing the road, you play houses that can fit 7,000 people."

Harris is looking forward to spending two weeks at home and at the beach, when "West Side Story" begins its Costa Mesa run. He also looks forward to seeing a slew of friends, family members and neighbors at the 3,000-seat Segerstrom Hall.

"Another thing I've learned from traveling the country is that there's really no place like Orange County," he said. "Although I'm glad I got out of there … I'm very, very grateful to have grown up in Orange County."

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