Canadian-born dancer/actor/singer Cody Green is used to taking big risks. He left The Juilliard School to join the ensemble of the Mama Mia! national tour. Playing Eddie in the tour of Movin’ Out led to joining the Broadway cast in its last few months, and then the London cast. He took a leave of absence from the revival of Grease to compete in BRAVO’s “Step It Up and Dance” competition and came away the winner. Then he turned down a show for the chance he might get to work with Arthur Laurents in West Side Story. He landed the role of Riff, leader of the Jets, which recently ended its run at the National, and is getting ready for its Broadway opening.
Joel: I was at the National Theatre for opening night of West Side Story on January 7th. How did you think opening night went?
Cody: Opening night was a lot of fun. The energy and focus in the whole cast was so high. I felt great about the opening.
Joel: Where were you when you got the phone call when they offered you the role of Riff?
Cody: Actually I didn’t get a phone call. I found out in my audition. Arthur Laurents brought the Jets and Sharks in the room at the final callback had us stand in our gangs and he said, “Welcome”. It was a surreal moment.
Joel: How do you relate to the character of Riff?
Cody: I try to relate to the frustration of losing something that means a lot to you. Riff is starting to lose his gang and best friend Tony, and that’s tough for him to deal with. I can definitely relate to losing people in my life, and I pull on that reaction
Joel: Is the way you played Riff based on someone you know?
Cody: I actually had some friends growing up that got into a lot of trouble and had tough childhoods. I try to think about their reactions in situations, and what they went through.
Joel: Was there chemistry between you and Matt Cavenaugh, who plays Tony, and the actors who play the Jets – from the first day of rehearsals?
Cody: We all had pretty good chemistry from the first day. Just going through the rehearsal process and becoming friends over that time – is invaluable.
Joel: What is your big number “Jet Song” about?
Cody: When Riff is getting the gang worked up to rumble with the Sharks, Tony’s loyalty to the gang is questioned. The “Jet Song” is about Riff telling his gang that you are a Jet for life and the gang always ‘has your back’.
Joel: What is the best advice Arthur Laurents gave you about playing Riff?
Cody: Arthur Laurents is incredible. He is such an honest director. The best advice he gave me was the first day – “Just let go!”.
Joel: How do you think Spanish contributes to the power of this new production?
Cody: The Spanish makes the world that the show takes place in so real. You see the story from both gangs and both worlds.
Joel: Now that Arthur has removed the subtitles, are you seeing a different reaction from the audience than you did when the subtitles were used? What is your opinion on using or not using the subtitles?
Cody: Not having the subtitles seems to allow the audience to really focus on the characters and the emotions. If they don’t understand some of the words, they will still understand what the character is going through.
Joel: Since Riff meets Jesus at the end of the first act, what did you do while you were waiting to come back for your curtain call?
Cody: It changed day to day. Sometimes I watched the show – which I loved to do – and sometimes I just relaxed.
Joel: What scene in West Side Story, which you are not in, is the most emotional scene for you to watch?
Cody: The scene at the end of the show with Maria always hits me whenever I see it.
Joel: Have you appeared in any other productions of West Side Story?
Cody: No, I haven’t been in West Side Story before. I have never seen another production on stage before.
Joel: You are known as the guy who won the $100K grand prize on BRAVO’s “Step It Up and Dance” series. What was that experience like, and how many offers did you get to dance in musicals after you won?
Cody: Winning the show was really exciting. The process of the show was really tough. We shot the entire 10 episodes in 3 weeks without a day off. It was intense. But I’m obviously really happy I did it! I actually didn’t get any Broadway offers doing the show, but I did get the chance to work with director/choreographer Jerry Mitchell, and Dance for Rihanna with choreographer Tina Landon. I was doing Grease on Broadway while I filmed the TV show. I had an offer for a new Broadway show, before the TV show aired, but I turned it down in the hope that I would get West Side Story. I’m really glad I did!
Joel: When was the first time you stepped on a stage?
Cody: I grew up dancing. My mom was my dance teacher. I started dancing when I was 3 years old. I don’t know if you can call it dance when you’re that little, but I definitely ran around and had fun and loved it. I didn’t get the thought to do theatre until I saw Big on Broadway when I was 15.
Joel: You played Eddie in Twyla Tharp’s production of Movin’ Out on Broadway, in the National Tour and London. Do Riff and Eddie share any similarities?
Cody: Riff and Eddie are both extremely confident characters. They are leaders, and their pride gets both of them in trouble.
Joel: Are there any similarities in Twyla Tharp’s choreography for Movin’ Out and Joey McKneeley’s reproduced Jerome Robbins’ choreography for West Side Story?
Cody: The two shows are very different. Twyla’s choreography is very smooth and organic, where the Robbins choreography is explosive, and has so much tension and energy in it.
Joel: Which choreographers and dancers do you draw inspiration from?
Cody: I have been so lucky to get to work with two of them. First, Twyla Tharp and then Jerome Robbins. I couldn’t have dreamed it better.
Joel: Is there a role that you haven’t played yet that you would love to play?
Cody: I would love to originate a role. That would be an amazing experience.
Joel: How was the DC National Theatre experience for you and the cast, and were DC audiences different than NYC audiences?
Cody: We really enjoyed it. Most of our time was spent in the theater, but we had a great run there. Audiences were different day to day. We had really good audiences, and the response was great.
West Side Story opens at the Palace Theatre in New York February 23, 2009;
Watch Cody Green’s winning performance on “Step It Up and Dance” on YouTube
DCTS review of West Side Story
DCTS interview with Karen Olivo who plays Anita in West Side Story