If you go
What: "West Side Story"
When: 7 p.m. Sunday
Where: Clay Center
Tickets: $48 to $69
Info: www.theclaycenter.org or 304-561-3570
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- It's a good thing Ben Redding decided to cast peer pressure aside and start taking dance lessons in the eighth grade.
The native of a small town in Georgia, Redding already had been bitten by the theater bug, thanks to a teacher who loved musical theater.
"How she got to our town I have no idea," Redding said. "She did 'Into the Woods' when I was in junior high. I was pretty terrible at everything and she literally made a part for me in that show. I was obsessed with it and the rest is history.
"Being from where I was from, I was hesitant to start taking dance class," he added. "But in the eighth grade, a production of <#146>42nd Street' came to a city pretty close to my town. I'll never forget it. I fell in love with it. And I said if I'm going to do this, I'm just going to have to suck it up. I started taking dance classes right after that."
Earlier this year, the hard work paid off for the graduate of North Carolina's Elon University when he caught the eye of a New York casting director who visited the college to teach a master class.
"A few days later I got an email telling me to come up and audition," he said.
He now has a lead role in the touring production of the classic musical "West Side Story," making a stop at the Clay Center Sunday. Redding plays Riff, leader of the Jets gang. And yes, the role requires its share of dancing.
"I thank heaven every day," he said of his dance lessons. "It is seriously the hardest dance show. From the day we started rehearsals, our choreographer has been saying, 'You're just withering away.' I can see my body change from day to day."
It's Redding's first opportunity to perform in the show, though he's familiar with it.
"I was the biggest musical theater nerd known to man," he said of his high school days. He recalled he'd ask his parents for money to go to the movies and used it instead to buy musical soundtracks.
"My parents were like, 'Where are all these CDs coming from?'<#148> he said. "So I knew 'West Side Story,' obviously. But I never even saw the movie all the way through until I found out I got this job."
His role as the tough leader of the white gang that pits itself against the Puerto Rican Sharks in a modern take on "Romeo and Juliet" is a fun challenge, Redding said.
"It's a little like the opposite of what I am in real life."
Redding said rehearsals began in September and the tour began earlier this month. His cast mates are mostly young, like he is.
"It's a really fresh cast. For a lot of us, it's our first tour," he said. "It makes it so raw and fun."
Redding already is well traveled, thanks to a father who loved to load the family into the car for trips around the country.
"But on this tour, I'm going to knock off the states I haven't been to -- we're going to Alaska for a week and we'll get to see the Northern Lights," Redding said. "We also get to go to five different places in Canada."
Contact writer Monica Orosz at mon...@dailymail.com or 304-348-4830.