Daniel Patrick Russell had the performer’s gene in his blood from the day he was born. His mother was a ballerina and his father a performer as well. “I grew up in Australia surrounded by art. I don’t remember a time where dance wasn’t part of my life.” When he was twelve, he was cast as Billy in the Melbourne production of the Broadway musical, Billy Elliot. He then got the chance to perform the role in the North American national tour. “My dad is from the United States and, years ago, performed West Side Story at the State Theatre in Cleveland, Ohio,” says Russell. “I got to perform on that same stage when I was on tour. That was really special.” Little did Russell know that West Side Story would become a significant part of his performing career, as well.
After tour, Russell returned back to Australia and continued his training. Upon graduating high school, he received a prestigious dance scholarship to study anywhere in the world. Russell applied and was accepted to Broadway Dance Center’s Professional Semester in the summer of 2015. “Just prior to coming to NYC, I was working as a contemporary dancer. When I came to BDC, I wanted to eat it all up and take from every teacher I could—in every style of dance. I couldn’t get enough!”
That intense and diverse training has since served him well throughout his career. After Professional Semester, he performed in West Side Story at Asolo Repertory Theatre in Florida. “I had the opportunity to perform the original Jerome Robbins choreography and it was incredible,” he remembers. That was just the start of Russell’s journey with WEST SIDE STORY. He went on to join the world tour as Baby John for 15 months. “Touring was a neat experience to see how the musical connected with different audiences from so many different countries. In Dublin, it felt like we were part of a rock concert! This show resonates with people all over the planet, regardless of language or cultural differences,” he explains. “It’s an immense piece of art and a huge honor to share that on stage every night.”
More recently, Russell wrapped yet another production of West Side Story…this time, the highly anticipated film remake, set to come out in theaters in December 2020. “I can’t give too much away,” admits Russell, who just finished filming in September. “Justin Peck’s choreography is reimagined and genius. The director, Steven Spielberg, is incredibly gifted, generous, and giving. The entire creative team cultivated such an incredible energy on set that allowed the cast and crew to do our best work.”
“The entire project was a dream,” Russell says smiling. “But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t challenging or exhausting at times.” Hours on a film set can start early in the morning and go long into the night. “When you do a show on stage, everything is chronological,” explains Russell. “But in film, you jump around the story a lot and have to make sure your character is present and truthful in each moment.”
“The cast was incredibly close and inclusive,” adds Russell. “You wouldn’t know that when the cameras came on because we had to be true to the story – the two opposing gangs: the Jets versus the Sharks. But when the crew yelled ‘cut,’ we were like a big family.”
The original production of West Side Story opened on Broadway in 1957. The Oscar-winning movie premiered four years later in 1961. The show had four Broadway revivals (soon to be five) and countless tours and regional productions produced around the world. The new film will be released over sixty years after the show’s original inception. Clearly, West Side Story is a story that continues to resonate with audiences. “The themes are still so relevant,” explains Russell. “It’s a masterpiece. At heart, it’s a retelling of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. The story of love, conflict, family, betrayal, unity, and hope is universal.”
Filming wrapped in September 2019 and now we anxiously await what will no doubt be a spectacular film. So, what’s next for Russell in the meantime? “I’m going on vacation to Italy!” he tells us. “I’d like to take a moment to show my gratitude for BDC. Since I moved to NYC, many opportunities have come my way thanks to BDC, and for that I am very thankful.”