Two Greek Australian performers to grace the stage in Sydney’s production of ‘West Side Story’

Popular musical West Side Story is set to have a Greek flavour in its upcoming run in Sydney’s Darling Harbour, with two Greek Australians recruited to help bring the production to life.

Inspired by William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, the play will have a month-long run of performances at the Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour, including the talents of Dimitri Raptis and Christopher Tsattalios.

The musical’s story involves two New York City gangs at war (the American Jets and the Puerto Rican Sharks), with two lovers from each gang falling in love despite their differences.

“It is a recipe for disaster, but in today’s current climate, the themes of racial discrimination and gun violence continue to provoke discussion and need for change, perhaps now more than ever,” Raptis told Neos Kosmos.

Tsattalios echoed this sentiment, remarking that “a lot of the messages from the show resonate to the world today. It really leaves the audience questioning and reflecting on their own life experiences”.

Dimitri Raptis. Photo: Supplied

A story that resonates with Greek Australians

Raptis, who has roots from Larissa and Athens, explained that the story is especially easy to relate to for migrants.

“What appeals to me most in this story is understanding the struggle in seeking a new and better life in another community; migrating into a further developed, English speaking country with barely any money and the clothes on your back,” he said.

“I am the first generation in my family to be born in Australia, so I see the resemblance in the Puerto Ricans arriving in Manhattan and my parents and grandparents arriving in Australia in the 60s, and the hardship they endured.”

The two performers will be on rival sides in the production, with Raptis playing Tiger (a member of the Jets gang) and Tsattalios playing Toro (who is part of the Sharks gang).

Raptis elaborated on his involvement in the performance wherein he is acting, singing, dancing, or doing some combination of the three in every scene he is in.

“It is my job to ensure I remember all my choreography, sheet music and lines required to perform a strong, clean and consistent product from opening night to closing. On top of this, I am also responsible for covering two of the supporting actor’s tracks,” the 25-year-old said.

“This means I need to be familiar with my cast mates’ lines and movements, in the event they are unable to perform due to sickness or injury.”

Both performers had to undergo a series of auditions before finally being cast in the role, with this production marking a landmark moment for both performers with it being Raptis’ first in Australia and Tsattalios’ first musical in his career.

Conceived and first performed in the late 1950’s the contemporary story and energy of West Side Story continues to draw interest. Photo: Opera Australia

Returning home after years abroad

Raptis has worked abroad for the last five years, dancing on various cruise ships with Royal Caribbean and even working in Saturday Night Fever the Musical, before coming back to Australia in the hopes of performing in shows like this.

“This has been my dream since I was a child,” Raptis told Neos Kosmos.

“Growing up I was surrounded by music and continuously inspired by the professionals I had watch on stage. I always told myself that I would make it to this point but it hits different when it becomes a reality. I have trained for over 20 years to achieve this, and it is truly gratifying that all the hard work has paid off.”

Tsattalios has had an extensive career as a professional dancer in film and television, working for the past ten years in Los Angeles with artists like Janet Jackson, Paula Abdul, Ricky Martin, Gwen Stefani, Dolly Parton, Katy Perry, Rita Ora, Kylie Minogue, Jojo Siwa and more.

Despite that success, performing in a musical remained a career goal for the 32-year-old dancer with roots from Kythera and Symi, which is what made this such a professionally satisfying experience.

“To finally be in my first show and for it to be ‘West Side Story’ is truly a gift. It is very much out of my comfort zone, and I am loving being pushed in a new direction and learning so many new skills from the incredible team I am lucky enough to work with,” Tsattalios said.

Christopher Tsattalios. Photo: Supplied

“This is an experience I will remember forever. I am looking forward to taking all the valuable lessons this show teaches you as a performer and taking it with me into my career.”

Raptis shared his castmate’s joy at being part of this production, labelling it “an honour”.

“One of my favourite aspects of this experience is how much freedom we’ve been given to make our own artistic choices, and ad lib how we want in reaction to each moment on stage,” the musical theatre performer said.

“It has really challenged me and drove me to put myself out there in the rehearsal space. It’s very exposing, but equally as fulfilling.”

Where: Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour

When: March 22-April 21