She is an unknown actress from Buenos Aires who, at 21, was born 30 years after the original Broadway production of West Side Story. But Josefina Scaglione’s velvety, opera-trained voice landed her the lead role of Maria in the bilingual remake of the modern-day Romeo and Juliet tale, set to open in New York in March in one of the most anticipated Broadway productions this spring.
Scaglione, known in Argentinean artistic circles for a poise and maturity far beyond her years, came to the attention of West Side Story’s librettist, Arthur Laurents, through her Internet video recording of Libertango. The video showcases the angelic-faced beauty’s broad vocal range in an operatic and purely melodic rendition of the Astor Piazzolla composition, with no lyrics. It was enough to impress the veteran director, who summoned Scaglione to New York for a formal audition.
“[Leonard] Bernstein’s music is the best score ever written for a musical,” Laurents told AARP Segunda Juventud. “You need a trained operatic voice to sing it.”
Scaglione, says Laurents, had everything going for her: the training, the looks, the voice, the talent, and the passion. “When what you are comes out, it has to be real,” says Laurents. “You hear the difference, especially when you have an educated ear.”
Despite her youth, Scaglione is a seasoned stage veteran who has appeared in Argentinean productions of Cinderella, Annie, Fame, and, most recently, Hairspray. In addition, her operatic career has allowed her to perform as a soloist in Argentina’s major concert halls.
Winning the role of Maria has opened up new vistas for this young actress, who says she knew, as a child, she was destined for the stage.
Q: When you learned you had won the role of Maria, what went through your mind?
A: As soon as the audition was over, in September, they told me I had the role. I cried.
I had no time to revel in what had just happened, to take in the significance of it and its impact on my career. I immediately had to turn around and take the plane back to Argentina to do Hairspray.
Now is when it’s dawning on me what’s happening, what a milestone this is; now is when I can reflect on the enormity of all this.
Q: You’re from Argentina, and you’re playing a Puerto Rican who lives in a New York Puerto Rican environment. How are you preparing for role? Have you seen the film or the musical?
A: No, I had never, and have not still, seen the movie or the musical. I saw a few video clips on YouTube of scenes from the movie to practice, to prepare for the audition.
I sang “Tonight” and “I Have a Love” [for the tryout]. I interpreted the role in my own way. I am rehearsing under Arthur’s direction. He gives an abundance of good advice and instruction. He’s very open, he encourages creativity. Little by little I create the character.
Q: Who is Maria? How do you see this role?
A: Maria is a woman in a girl’s body. She’s very strong, very sure of her feelings of love. She’s very courageous, and she’s very much in love.
Q: How is preparing for this musical different from your previous work?
A: It comes down to your own standards, having a high bar. I have high standards for myself, so I approach performances with the same dedication, no matter whether it’s in a small theater in Argentina, or Broadway.
Here, for West Side Story, the producers are demanding. They want the best from you, they have high expectations. It’s hard, intense work. We rehearse eight hours a day, six days a week. I follow Arthur’s direction, his guidance. Arthur is a huge inspiration.
Q: When did you become interested in performing, in the musical theater specifically? How did that passion develop?
A: When I was born! Ever since I can remember, I’ve had a huge passion for art. I’ve always adored dancing, acting, singing. When I started studying theater in Argentina, I knew right away that performing on stage was my destiny.
Q: And now you’ll be on Broadway. How does it feel?
A: It’s fantastic to be the lead in a Broadway musical, or have any part, actually, in a Broadway musical. It a great source of happiness. Anyone who loves musical theater and performing dreams of making it on Broadway.