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Back from injury, Greensboro's Isaac Powell plays lead role in Broadway revival of 'West Side Story'

Back from injury, Greensboro's Isaac Powell plays lead role in Broadway revival of 'West Side Story'

GREENSBORO — As Isaac Cole Powell sings in "West Side Story," something's coming. Something good.

Over the weekend, the Greensboro native returned to his lead role as Tony in the new Broadway revival of the iconic musical.

Powell had been sidelined since he tore the meniscus in his knee during previews on Dec. 20.

The producer postponed the show's opening night from Feb. 6 to Feb. 20 at the Broadway Theatre, to give Powell time to recover and return to previews first.

Terry and Will Powell, his parents in Greensboro, are relieved for their 25-year-old son.

"We are so thankful that the injury was not worse, and the timing was best-case scenario," Terry Powell said via email last week.

"When he first heard this show was going to be produced, he wanted to be in it in any capacity, and to get cast as the lead was truly a dream come true," Terry Powell said. "It would have been devastating to have an injury that took him out of it all together."

Mitchel Sommers, who directed Isaac Powell in his younger years in Community Theatre of Greensboro plays, called it "an incredible compliment and tribute to Isaac's talent that the producers would hold off a Broadway opening to accommodate his healing and return to the show."

"That decision was costly and bold but confirms how intrinsic they feel he is to the success of this unique revival," Sommers said. 

Isaac Powell and Shereen Pimentel play the leads as star-crossed lovers in the "Romeo and Juliet"-inspired musical revival about rival gangs, directed by Ivo van Hove.

The original production opened in 1957, with music by Leonard Bernstein, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and direction and choreography by Jerome Robbins. It features such iconic songs as "Tonight," "Maria" and "Something's Coming." 

During Isaac Powell's absence from previews, understudy Jordan Dobson stepped in.

Terry Powell praised the care that the show has provided to her son.

Because his apartment is a fifth-floor walk-up, the show booked him a room to stay in through surgery and recovery, she said.

"They set him up immediately with an excellent surgeon and physical therapist that work with the New York Ballet and understand the nature of his injury and the urgency to recover and get back on stage," she said. "They provided a car service for him and even had physical therapy supplies, groceries and snacks delivered to his room."

"As a mother," she added, "it was such a relief to know his needs were being met in such a thoughtful manner."

She said she understands that her son only will do evening performances and no matinees until he is ready for two shows a day.

His physical therapist will attend some rehearsals to make sure he is ready and his choreography is safe for his continued healing, Terry Powell said.

Isaac Powell has referred requests for an interview to the show's press agents.

Powell made his Broadway debut in 2017, as a principal character in the Tony Award-winning revival of the musical, "Once on This Island." 

It came barely two months after his graduation from the UNC School of the Arts in Winston-Salem with a degree in acting.

In a 2017 interview with the News & Record, he described his feelings upon getting that role.

"I couldn't believe what I was hearing," he said. "I never expected it, or at least not so quickly."

The youngest of three children of Terry and Will Powell — a three-time world CrossFit champion — Isaac found his acting niche as a middle-schooler at Community Theatre of Greensboro.

Sommers noticed Powell's determination and cast him as a munchkin in CTG's annual production of "The Wizard of Oz."

Coincidentally, "West Side Story" was the first play for which Powell auditioned at CTG at age 13, that he did not get into the cast, he told the New York Times Style Magazine.

"He had great promise then, but he was still a kid," Sommers said, adding that it was a CTG production featuring adults and older teens.

Powell started lessons at Greensboro Dance Theatre and studied voice privately.

After Southeast Middle School, he studied theater for three years at Weaver Academy.

In his fifth year at CTG, he earned the role of the Scarecrow in "The Wizard of Oz."

UNCSA admitted Powell into its competitive high school program for his senior year of high school. Powell decided to stay for college and earned his degree in acting in May 2017.

Soon came the role in "Once on This Island." Then in 2019, he earned the role in "West Side Story."

The production is expected to be featured in a segment of the CBS television news show, "60 Minutes" on Feb. 16. 

"It is an unbelievable feeling anytime as a parent we see our children living their dream," Terry Powell said.

"He has remained very humble and gracious, so it's still hard to believe that he is becoming so famous," she said. "It is very evident, however, when we see how people react to recognizing him on the street, or hear him speak of all of the very famous people who are becoming part of his circle, or see him in Vogue magazine, or on '60 Minutes.'

"It's really a hard thing to comprehend or explain," she said.

Contact Dawn DeCwikiel-Kane at 336-373-5204 and follow @dawndkaneNR on Twitter.

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