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After five years working in LA, Wade returns to Portland to play Tony in 'West Side Story'

CRAIG MITCHELLDYER/BROADWAY ROSE THEATRE COMPANY - The cast of the Broadway Rose production of 'West Side Story' features Andrew Wade as Tony and Mia Pinero as Maria, star-crossed lovers who fight to be together against all odds.Andrew Wade has returned to his Portland roots this summer, starring as the doomed protagonist Tony in the Broadway Rose production of “West Side Story.”

But unlike the ill-fated Tony, the theater has brought nothing but happiness for Wade: He met his wife in the theater and has been a steady working actor since moving to Los Angeles in 2010.

But he first had to steal himself away from baseball after an inauspicious start in theater. Although Wade was born in Seattle, his family moved to Portland when he was 7, so he grew up here, graduating from La Salle High School.

“I always liked singing and took piano lessons, but I played baseball for 16 years,” said Wade, noting that his family is “relatively artistic.” But other than appearing in a Christmas program in grade school, his only stage experience was playing Freddie Eynsford-Hill in “My Fair Lady” in high school.

“When they announced the show, I wanted to sing his signature song, ‘On the Street Where You Live,’” Wade said. “I loved that song and started taking voice lessons and worked with my dad’s directing friends to prepare.

“For the audition, I was shaking like a leaf, but I thought, ‘If I don’t get it, I will just play baseball.’ I had tried to do theater before, but there were always schedule conflicts. This was the first time I had auditioned in front of so many people.”

Also in high school, Wade and three friends formed an acapella group, debuting at a school talent show, and those meager beginnings in music were enough to convince him to major in vocal performance at the University of Portland.

“There were eight music majors in my class and two were from my acapella group,” Wade said.

During the summers, Wade got roles in local theater companies’ shows and performed with his acapella group, which by then had two new members and put out a Christmas album his senior year.CRAIG MITCHELLDYER/BROADWAY ROSE THEATRE COMPANY - Andrew Wade as Tony and Mia Pinero as Maria portray star-crossed lovers who fight to be together against all odds in the Broadway Rose production of 'West Side Story.'

“It was my dream and aspiration to perform,” he said. “I looked at music-related jobs and I was writing music, which I wanted to keep doing. I left Portland less than a year after I graduated — it was St. Patrick’s Day 2010 — on very short notice.

“A friend was moving to LA to be a screenwriter and brought it up several months ahead of time. Ultimately, I decided to go, although it was kind of a snap decision. My parents were shocked but supportive. I had no job and no place to live, but there we were, living in Hollywood, which was glamorous from the outside and a fun place to walk everywhere.”

Wade defied the old adage that “an overnight sensation takes about 10 years,” noting that “half the battle is being patient. All you have to do is outlast the other people, although you need a modicum of talent and desire.”

The first year, Wade did a lot of background work, taking non-speaking roles in movies and television, performing in “Pretty Little Liars,” “Water for Elephants” and “Awkward.”

“After nine or 10 months, I was making a good living and joined (the Screen Actors Guild/American Federation of Television and Radio Artists),” he said. “I started auditioning for theater work because music was what I wanted to do. I was busy and felt fortunate to work as an actor.

“One thing led to another, and I met my wife Michaelia in my second theatrical show, ‘1776.’ I played the courier, and she played Martha Jefferson, and there was lots of time to sit around and talk.”

Wade, who plays several musical instruments, had other jobs, too — one of his favorites was playing the guitar with a four-piece band at Kidville, which provides interactive experiences for kids.

“It is sort of a musical Gymboree,” he said. “Celebrities would bring their kids there for birthday parties. Josh Duhamel and Fergie, Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner, Reese Whitherspoon, and Sarah Michelle Gellar and Freddie Prinze Jr. brought their kids there.

“They acted like normal parents and let their guard down. You could see them as real people. Most of them were really nice. I did it for two years, and it was pretty crazy.”

Another job was performing at Disneyland, where coincidentally, Wade performed with a hillbilly folk band at the Golden Horseshoe and Country Jamboree that he had seen perform 13 years earlier on his first trip there at age 12.

Fate brought Wade back to Portland this summer. In February this year, he was doing a stage reading of “1776,” playing the courier again, and Ron Daum, a Portland-area actor and director who works with Broadway Rose, was playing John Adams.

A few weeks later, Daum sent Wade a couple of Facebook messages saying that Broadway Rose was looking for an actor to play Tony in “West Side Story.” When Wade finally got the messages, he had one day to make an audition video.

“I did the opening scene with Riff played by my brother-in-law, who is an actor, and memorized ‘Maria,’” he said. “We spent all day shooting it.”

He obviously did a good job, because Sharon Maroney, Broadway Rose’s producing artistic director, called and offered him the role.

Arriving in Portland in early June, Wade was soon immersed in rehearsals, and the job brought an unexpected bonus: extended time with his parents and siblings, who he usually only sees a couple weeks a year.

“I’ve been doing musical theater for about five years in Los Angeles,” Wade said. “It’s been very good to me. And I’ve been fortunate to have day jobs that connected me with music and acting.

“I’m very glad to do this role. It’s a classic — I can say I’ve done it. It is a pretty flawless show, and the story is as old as time. It’s so iconic, and doing it at home is unreal.”

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