BBC Proms goes for US cast in West Side Story

BBC Proms goes for US cast in West Side Story


norman lebrecht

August 01, 2018

The intended Maria for the Proms showpiece pulled out because the cast was not Latino enough.

Others wondered why the BBC needed to import Americans when plenty of Brits can sing Bernstein’s show. The typecasting is simply unnecessary and often ridiculous.

As ever, the BBC took public concerns abroad.

It is proceeding with an all-American cast.

Press release:

The BBC Proms are pleased to announce the cast for the two concert performances of Bernstein’s West Side Story at the Proms on Saturday 11 August, led by John Wilson and the John Wilson Orchestra.

Leading the cast will be Mikaela Bennett as ‘Maria’ and Ross Lekites as ‘Tony’. Mikaela, a recent graduate of The Julliard School, has made her debuts with the Philadelphia Orchestra and New York Philharmonic’s Young People’s Concerts in performances of West Side Story, as well as taking part in Bernstein on Broadway at the Kennedy Center, a concert celebrating the centenary of his birth. Ross Lekites will perform the role of ‘Tony’, a part he has sung many times in the US but brings to the UK for the first time.

Actress and singer Eden Espinosa, best known for her performance in the musical Wicked, performs the role of ‘Anita’, whilst Leo Roberts, most recently seen in the West End production of Evita, plays ‘Riff’ and Gian Marco Schiaretti joins the line-up as ‘Bernardo’.


  • Music Lover says:

    You are right, there are many British actors that could perform the roles as well as the cast that are announced above. But why do we need to have British singers perform the work just because the festival is in Britain?

    Many British Orchestra’s perform just as well as the international orchestras that visit the festival every summer. We don’t let that stop us celebrating the performances of foreign artists though – I don’t see why this should be any different.

  • Simon Evnine says:

    Don’t forget that the composer’s DG recording of WSS had the craziest mis-casting of all when Jose Carreras was given the role of Tony. It skewed the whole thing

  • Music Lover says:

    I should also add that in fact not all of the lead cast are American – many are British/Irish.

    They are supported by an ensemble of students studying at British MT colleges and the JW Orchestra.

    Hardly the American blow out that the articles leads us to believe.

  • Save the MET says:

    “West Side Story” is an American original, as is “Porgy and Bess”. Hiring Americans, particularly Latinos for WSS is authentic. It is akin to hiring British actors to play Sir Winston Churchill, or Queen Elizabeth in film. It would not be authentic to hire Americans to play such roles. Not to say there are not Brits who could sing WSS, but authenticity counts.

    • Caravaggio says:

      The Maria, one Mikaela Bennett, does not sound like she has a Hispanic surname, does she? In the end, who cares who performs what so long as they do it well and creditably? By your reasoning, opera singers who happen to be people of color might as well pack up and go home. Because it is foremost and mostly an artform by and for whites only, with characters/roles to match. No?

      • anon says:

        Surname is not the sole indication of personal heritage.

      • John F says:

        I have tried to find out whether Mikaela Bennett has any Latina heritage, but had no luck.

        I assume nothing from her surname. Mine is Franklin, but I am half-Puerto Rican.

        I would find a non-Puerto Rican Latina little more authentic in the role than a non-Latina. We’re not some monolithic race, ethnicity or cultural group after all.

        ¡Somos Boricuas!

    • Jon says:

      Actors to have played Churchill recently include John Lithgow (American), while Elizabeth I has been played by Cate Blanchett and Margot Robbie (both Australian). I don’t recall any complaints about their ‘authenticity’.

  • Art Serating says:

    Does no one at the BBC know how to spell JUILLIARD?

  • V.Lind says:

    Isn’t Ms. Bennett Canadian?

  • buxtehude says:

    Vivian Leigh played Scarlett O’Hara, after interviews with 1400 (presumed) Americans. The Yanks loved it anyway.

    The cry for entho-casting, or racial, or national, is death, just as is the campaign against “cultural appropriation.” They should be stifled before they wreck everything.

  • Rob says:

    What’s hilarious is british singers singing in an american accent in previous Proms concerts of american musicals.


  • Ben says:

    Where’s Cumberbatch?


  • msc says:

    The thinking behind this type of thing (Latino roles must be sung by Latinos, etc.) has already been skewered enough here and I won’t belabour it, but I can’t resist some comment. I know the power relations etc. mean to these people that it is fine that things are one-sided, but still… Do they want to head towards a world where only a North African can play Otello (who almost certainly is not sub-Saharan African) but Hamlet, Lear, and Macbeth are closed to non-whites?
    I do hope that soon the Americans will ensure that productions of any operas composed by Brits and set in Britain will be dominated by British singers, and enough of these multi-national casts in Verdi, Puccini, Bellini, Donizetti, etc. They must be dominated by ethnic Italians if not Italian citizens.

  • Fred Plotkin says:

    Mikaela Bennett is an excellent singer with a lovely voice and fine acting skills. She is the right age for the part and looks like what we think of as Maria. All of these reasons make this a good casting pick. Her ethnicity and nationality (she is Canadian) should not matter.