Book: Arthur Laurents
Music: Leonard Bernstein
Lyrics: Stephen Sondheim
Director: Nikolai Foster
Reviewer: Selwyn Knight
West Side Story, it could be argued, broke new ground when it burst on to the scene in the late 1950s. With a gritty story of New York gangs based on Romeo and Juliet, a sublime score from Leonard Bernstein, smart lyrics from Stephen Sondheim and breathtaking balletic choreography from Jerome Robbins, it quickly established itself as one of the finest American musicals of the twentieth century. In the intervening period, it has been performed across the globe, tugging at heartstrings everywhere it plays. And now there’s a new Made in Curve version to be enjoyed. Over the years, the look of the spectacle has remained consistent as licencing rights precluded new choreography, until now. Choreographer Ellen Kane tells us in the programme that this production has been twelve months in the making, including her brand-new choreography. And it’s a triumph.
The very first scene shows us that this is a new interpretation as we see immigrants arriving at Ellis Island and the newly-arrived Puerto Rican Pepe being jostled by members of the Jets, setting the scene for the rivalry between the American Jets and Puerto Rican Sharks for dominance on a patch of New York’s West Side. While the choreography remains balletic in places, it has an altogether more contemporary, edgier, street feel to it. A large 16-piece orchestra led by George Dyer provides lush music and adds power to many of the scenes. The visuals are quite spectacular, assisted by the largely monochrome multi-level set from Michael Taylor that contrasts with the exuberant colours, especially of the Puerto Rican costumes. Lighting from Guy Hoare is dramatic and occasionally stark, often picking out the action in an unforgiving bright white light.
Nikolai Foster’s intelligent direction is faithful to the era but also helps highlight that the gang culture described in West Side Story persists today, the need for disenfranchised youngsters to feel part of something bigger than themselves, something they see as worthwhile, family.
Our star cross’d lovers are played by Jamie Muscato and Adriana Ivelisse. Ivelisse strikes exactly the right balance as she moves from excited teen looking forward to her first dance to mature young lady having met, loved and lost Tony. She displays a feisty and flirty childlike wonder at the beginning and packs a mean punch in her powerful soprano voice. Muscato demonstrates Tony’s increasing disillusionment with gang culture, wanting and needing something more and imagining that whatever that ‘something more’ maybe, it’s just round the corner. While his singing in Something’s Coming maybe a little hesitant at times, their singing on Somewhere is truly touching and a quite beautiful moment.
Carly Mercedes Dyer brings us a feisty Anita, a woman who knows her own mind. She may love Shark leader, Bernardo, but she knows him and his faults. A snappy mover, Dyer gives a memorable performance, with A Boy Like That being especially hard-hitting. And when there’s high tension after the tragic events that close the first half, the exuberant Gee, Officer Krupke is given a new goofball lease of life, providing some much-needed light relief as the Jets try to come to terms with the outcome of the Rumble.
West Side Story explores many themes, some of which are uncomfortable, for example, the overt racism demonstrated by Lieutenant Schrank. Others are more understandable, the idea of loyalty to your friends and family, being true to your background and culture but, more importantly, to yourself. It remains a powerful story still relevant today.
Runs until 11 January 2020 Image: Ellie Kurttz