Opening Night Party for ‘West Side Story’

It was synchronistic that I attended West Side Story on the first night of Chanukah. Instead of the Selevicid Dynasty battling it out with the Ptolemanic Kingdom for political control, it was all about the Jets and the Sharks.

At the Pantages Theatre, I scored an orchestra seat near Jennifer Love Hewitt and Modern Family’s Eric Stonestreet. Pussycat Doll founder Robin Antin sat a few rows behind. Everyone came out to see the infamous choreography and listen to the memorable tunes.

Afterwards, Ivan Kane’s hosted a bash at his Cafe Was, the perfect boite for après theatre chatter. In a semi-private room, George Chakiris and Russ Tamblyn, who starred in the 1961 film, held court.

It’s almost impossible to carry on an uninterrupted conversation at these events. But I managed to snag a few minutes with Charkiris, who won an Oscar for portraying Bernardo, the leader of the Sharks. If you looked up the word charming in the dictionary, it might have his name. When he engages with you, he looks you straight in the eye and holds your shoulder, as a sign of affection.

The actor’s persona has transitioned from macho to spiritual. As Bernardo, he portrayed a Puerto Rican punk who was ready to rumble (he’s Greek). Now he’s a jewelry designer with a sterling silver jewelry line, The George Chakiris Collection, which is sold as far as the Mitsukoski Department Store in Tokyo.

“It started as a hobby. The first piece I ever designed was a scarab cuff bracelet, inspired from the King Tut’s tomb. The original had lapis, carnelian and gold.”

Considered very good luck in ancient Egypt, the scarab is a beetle. A dog lover, George designed a “Lucky Seven” dog tag line with names as Troia (harmony), Eros (sensuality), Braga (unity) and Zephyr (adventure).

Santiago, who currently plays Bernardo at the Pantages, stopped by to meet his hero. George told him, “It was hard to enjoy the show; my mind was racing and remembering my experiences. But, I loved it!”

They compared notes. George expressed concern about differences in the updated Arthur Laurent script, as he’s seen a number of WSSs through the years. Duty called. Photos. More photos. After all, he was the man of the hour.

We caught up with the stunning Kym Johnson, Dancing with the Stars season nine winner with Donny Osmond. Sadly, she and her last partner, David Hasselhoff, left the competition early.

“I was lucky. I got to come back every week to dance with the pros on the Tuesday show. It was amazing.”

She and David became BFF’s. “David is such a lovely man.” There had been talk that the two hooked up romantically.

“We never dated,” Kim said. “But he’s a good friend.”

If you’re looking for a healthy holiday stocking stuffer, you may want to check out Kym’s new video.

“It’s a thorough workout,” she said.

The dancer goes to native Australia for the holidays.

“Christmas is very different for me. It’s summer and my family barbecues at the beach. Last year I was in New York.”

The reason: she partnered with DWTS Maksim Chmerkovskiy on Broadway in Burn the Floor. I got to experience what I’ve always seen in the movies – snow! Her passion is theatre and she said would love to return to Broadway.

“We sadly don’t have those opportunities in L.A,” she said.

Sue Facter writes about all things A-list. She is a 20-year contributor to USA Today.