Music: Leonard Bernstein.
Lyrics: Stephen Sondheim
Book: Arthur Laurents
Director: Joey McKneely
Reviewer: Pete Benson
Probably the best musical ever written; West Side Story. An iconic musical with a huge weight of history bearing down on it. Not least because of the artistic giants that created it, Leonard Bernstein, Stephen Sondheim and choreographer Jerome Robbins who arguably between them reinvented the musical genre in 1957 with their retelling of Romeo and Juliet. This has become a double edged sword for anyone presenting the show today. On the one hand it is an artistic gift on the other there is a whole lot to live up to. This company for the most part more than live up to the task.
The show foregoes an overture and is straight into the opening dance. This establishes both the bitter conflict between the Puerto Rican Sharks and the Anglo jets but also the dynamic contemporary ballet style of the show. Enter Tony, and those that know the show want to know if he is up to it. His first song Maria is his big test which he more than passes. Louis Maskell has a crystal clear rich voice and reaches the high notes with ease. He convincingly handles the range of emotion his character demands but it is a bit of a stretch to believe that he was the previously respected leader of the Jets.
We have met Romeo and it is not long before we meet Juliet or Maria as she is known. Katie Hall is one of the two real stars of the show; she has a powerful beautiful voice, a great sense of comedy and the one thing lacking in a lot of the cast, on stage charisma. Her interpretation of Maria is nuanced and varied, from her early sulky teenager, through emerging woman to crazed and grieving lover.The other star of the show is Djalenga Scott who plays Anita, the girlfriend of Maria’s brother Bernardo alias Tybalt. Scott’s Anita is a strong, charismatic, sexy woman who nearly does the right thing in the face of unbearable turmoil. She gives a superb performance with some lovely little detailed moments and she sings and dances like a dream. She and the Shark girls perform the best version of America I’ve seen in a while.
The performers playing the Jets and the Sharks all give great account of themselves. The dancing is spot on, the leaps high, the singing strong and the gang dynamics varied and focused.However, the adult characters in this production are weaker. Too much of their characterisation is through shouted anger. Doc’s speech after the rape of Anita should break our hearts; David Delve doesn’t come close. The stereotypical racist cop played by Jason Griffiths displays no shades of grey which are sprinkled, albeit sparingly, in the script; he is all one tone.
The lighting design by Peter Halbsgut is fabulous against Paul Gallis’s simple skeletal West Side tenement set which cantilevers around the stage. He makes particular use of rich swathes of colour contrasted with foreground brightness, this adds so much atmosphere and emotion to the show.If you are in an orchestra for West Side Story you can’t afford to be anything less than brilliant and they are absolutely brilliant.
The principal criticism of the production is the sound mix. At least 15 percent of the spoken dialogue is inaudible over the orchestra. The Waterside isn’t the most acoustically friendly space but that is no excuse, it is more than able to deal with this. The sound engineer is no doubt walking a fine line between that horrible disembodied amplified sound and a more natural voice, but we need to hear the words.
The few gripes aside this is a good strong production of West Side Story. Go and have a great night in the theatre.
Photo: Alastair Muir | Runs until 23rd August 2014