As a young woman of 27 years old, I was cast as Anita in West Side Story. I had no idea how the work process of putting that together would inform me, inspire me, and truly lead me to want to direct and choreograph. I first auditioned for Leonard Bernstein, then it was Jerome Robbins. And then, when we actually went to go to work and rehearsal, there was a man – Gerald Freedman – who did a lot of the scene study work with us in between learning different variations of “America.” We sat at the table for at least two weeks and it was there that I truly experienced taking a script, breaking it down, deconstructing the narrative, creating the circumstances that were not written in the play, and understanding the musicalization of all the emotions that I was going through as an actor. It was exciting. Coming from Houston, Texas, where everything was segregated, we couldn’t even go to the theater or to the movies that the general public attended. So I didn’t grow up with West Side Story, but I came to love it and was inspired by the work ethic of the production to guide others on the path that led me to success.
Debbie Allen is a two-time Tony Award nominee for her electrifying performances in Sweet Charity and West Side Story. In a career that spans three decades, the name Debbie Allen is synonymous with dynamic energy, creative talent and innovation. For her vast body of work, Ms. Allen has earned three Emmy Awards, a Golden Globe, five NAACP Image Awards, a Drama Desk, an Astaire Award (for Best Dancer), and the Olivier Award. Debbie made her Broadway debut in Purlie. She holds four honorary Doctorate degrees and has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. She is currently an Executive Producer as well as a director and actress on ABC’s Grey’s Anatomy.