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Zach Trimmer: From the West Coast to Northport's West Side Story

The actor takes on Tony for the second time this year and reflects on returning to one of his favorite theaters.

If there is anyone who knows the ins and outs of Tony in West Side Story, it's Zach Trimmer. The actor is currently making his return to the John W. Engeman Theater after having filled Tony's shoes once already this year at Westchester Broadway Theatre. Trimmer landed his first professional role in New York at the Engeman in 2013 when he performed in A Wonderful Life, and he hasn't stopped taking the country by storm since. Tours with Hairspray and Avenue Q led him to four shows in a row in 2015, but from the look of his moves in West Side Story, he shows no sign of slowing down. He spoke with TheaterMania about coming full circle to the theater where his career began, and about bringing originality to the musical on the 58th anniversary of its Broadway premiere.

Zach Trimmer currently plays Tony in the John W. Engeman Theater's production of West Side Story.

How is your experience as Tony in the John W. Engeman Theater production different from your previous experience in the role?
I went into it having already performed it about ninety times, so I knew the lines, the songs, and everything that you normally have to learn and drill into your head. It was an odd experience going into a rehearsal process already knowing everything. It was fun because I felt like I had a head start. I got to focus more on new relationships with new cast members, and kind of breaking the mold of what I was doing before. I focused on making this performance fresh and not a copy of what I had done. The John W. Engeman Theater has a special place in my heart. They gave me my first job in New York City when I was 18 years old. I didn't even have an equity card!

How does a young man from San Mateo, California, get to West Side Story on Long Island?
Actually, I started theater pretty late. I was a musician when I was growing up and was always playing instruments. That was what I thought I was going to do, and then I discovered I could sing at the age of 15 or 16. I realized that I loved it, so I switched right over from band to musical theater. But because I started late, I didn't want to go to a four-year college for something that was brand-new…and that I might hate in a year. I moved to New York when I was 18, and I said, "I'll give myself a certain amount of time, and if I succeed then it's meant for me, and if I don't, then I'll go to school for something else." I ended up going on tour within a couple of months [Hairspray and Avenue Q], and just kind of riding the wave. It has been a great ride, and it's a great way to spend your life. I'm lucky that I've been able to do that.

Samantha Williams as Maria and Zach Trimmer as Tony in the Engeman Theater's new production of West Side Story.
(photo courtesy of the production)

What is the biggest challenge about everyone already having expectations for Tony?
Everybody has a connection to West Side Story. Even if you've never seen it, you've heard of it. The patrons that are coming have a long history with it. As an actor I always try to bring myself to it. Every character, even if it's a villain, has to have some shade of likability. If you're one of the main characters of the show they have to root for you. I think I bring a likability factor because then it makes the show more poignant in the tragedy of everything that goes on; it makes you care about the character. Even if someone is really familiar with the show, I bring a new energy to it and make them care about the character all over again.

People know that you are very talented when it comes to musical theater. However, they might be surprised to learn that you have a variety of talents under your belt…including your penchant for solving Rubik's Cubes.
Yes! I'm obsessed with things like a Rubik's Cube. When they put a puppet in my hand for Avenue Q, I had to learn how to use it and have fun with it. In school I played every instrument in the band except trombone. Pretty much every instrument you could blow into. I used to stay after school in the band room and pick up the spare instruments and I would sit with the book and teach myself for a couple of hours after school. My band teacher gave me a key to the band room, and I got to just sit there and teach myself.

Samantha Williams as Maria and Zach Trimmer as Tony in the John W. Engeman Theater's production of West Side Story.
(photo courtesy of the production)