Book: Arthur Laurents
Music: Leonard Bernstein
Lyrics: Stephen Sondheim
Director/Choreographer: Joey McKneely
Reviewer: Lauren Humphreys
The glorious finished product that West Side Story became is extraordinary considering how fraught the relationship between the show’s tyrannical director Jerome Robbins (whose choreography is re-produced on this tour by his former assistant Joey McKneely) and the creative team of Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim. Shocking audiences and changing the history of musical theatre on its debut in 1957, this ground-breaking musical is a re-telling of Romeo and Juliet, our Montagues and Capulets this time two gangs; the Polish-American Jets and the Puerto Rican Sharks. Re-set on the mean streets of 1950’s New York, it tells a tale of gang violence, rape and rampant racism.
When looking at the show from a distance of sixty years there has to be an acceptance that in this age of daily exposure to violence and tragedy some of its impact and shock value has been lost but what hasn’t eroded is the emotional impact that the piece has on its audience.
The staging is simplistic, nothing more than a few spindly fire-escapes, some balconies and black and white projected backdrops of New York and Arthur Laurents book, though light on dialogue is effective, but this really is a show whose magic lies in its music and choreography to drive the story and ramp up the tension. With a score that includes the now classic songs, ‘Maria’, ‘Tonight’, ‘Somewhere’ and ‘I Feel Pretty’ and the show-stopping set pieces ‘America’ and ‘Gee, Officer Krupke’ executed with impressive precision by the hugely talented ensemble, it’s impossible not to be won over. The only jarring note is the overly sentimental dream ballet sequence during the emotive ‘Somewhere’, mawkish in its day it is just too syrupy for a modern day audience.
The cast are universally deserving of praise, in particular Louis Maskell as Tony, a star in the making with an evocative voice, rich in tone and emotion and an appealing stage presence. In support Djalenga Scott is a fire-cracker Anita, Javier Cid, an elegant and imposing Bernardo and Jack Wilcox a power-house Riff. Katie Hall in the pivotal rôle of Maria, captures the accent well, managing to maintain it while singing, but she’s physically unconvincing as the young Puerto Rican immigrant Maria and while her clear soprano is impressive (as it was as Christine in the recent Phantom of the Opera tour) her acting skills leave a lot to be desired. That said, any minor quibbles, and there are few, are easy to forgive in the face of such talent and quality.
Deserving of its status as an all-time great, this beautifully executed production with its pitch-perfect cast is simply unmissable.
Runs until Saturday 25th January 2014 |Image courtesy www.westsidestorytheshow