Andréa Burns says it was “out of the blue” when she got a call from her agent offering her a role in Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of West Side Story.
“I was like, ‘what is this?’ There’s no role for a woman my age in West Side Story,” she told me in January 2020 at BroadwayCon.
For Burns, being in West Side Story is a full circle moment of her career that she never even dreamed could happen because traditionally, there are no female adult roles in the musical.
“It really hit me,” she said after the fact. “Mind blowing.”
With an expanded screenplay by Tony Kushner, it turns out there was a role for the Broadway actress. She was offered the part of Fausta, a member of the night time cleaning crew at Gimbels department store, the famous Herald Square emporium formerly located across from Macys. Traditionally, Maria and Anita work at a bridal store. In this version, based on the original 1957 stage production, Spielberg set those scenes filmed in Newark, New Jersey including “I Feel Pretty” in a recreated floor of Gimbels.
Burns says she sings a little bit in “I feel Pretty.”
“Seeing a scene with her around the end of the number -- that was the one day that I cried on set out of happiness, it was a moment between her and Maria,” recalled Ilda Mason who plays Luz. “Be prepared because she's funny, has a heart and is tough at the same time. I cannot wait. It’s so simple but the smallest things touch people in different ways. I don’t know if that’s the shot that’s going to be used but it brought me to tears.”
Burns marked her professional acting career at 19 years old in a production of West Side Story. And at 21 years old, she played Maria on a European tour. It’s where she met her husband, director Peter Flynn.
“It’s such a special show to us,” she said.
West Side Story is such a special show that during production, Burns asked the film’s producers if she and Flynn could sit in on filming of the “Dance at the Gym” scenes because it was their wedding anniversary.
“I said, ‘I would really love to be there. Can I bring my husband and can we hang for that?’
And so they did.
“That was the most extraordinary day. We spent the whole day watching them shoot ‘Dance at the Gym.’
She not only got to watch Steven Spielberg in action but marveled at the 60 dancers on set. “Dancers often get the short stick of everything and they work the hardest. They are the stars really of this movie and to see them be respected, loved and cherished so much by Steven Spielberg was beautiful,” she said.
And perhaps the most incredible part of the experience for her was being in a film with icon Rita Moreno.
“Rita is West Side Story and she’s in this West Side Story that I am in. I don’t think I’ll ever get over it,” she added.