Writer: Arthur Laurents
Director: Joey McKneely
Reviewer: Sharon MacDonald-Armitage
Southampton’s Mayflower positively burns with the heat of a hot Manhattan night as it welcomes director Joey McKneely version of West Side Story. Based on Jerome Robbins concept of a book by Arthur Laurents and with music and lyrics by Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim this ever popular musical has become a classic and never fails to impact with the audience.
It is rather apt that in the 450th anniversary year of Shakespeare this 50th anniversary tour of an adaptation of Romeo and Juliet still resonates with today’s audience. Telling the story of rival teenage gangs in Manhattan’s Upper West Side the Puerto Rican Sharks and the white American Jets display a rivalry that gets out of hand and leads to tragedy as the love between a member of each gang is thwarted.
There is a clear strength with the dance ensemble although at times this was to the detriment of the acting. There were a few weaknesses among the male vocals and although the lead character Tony, played by Louis Maskell gave a solid performance there were times when his vibrato detracted from the song. However, his ‘Tonight’ duet with Maria was sheer beauty.
Despite the indisposition of Katie Hall and Djalenga Scott, understudies Charlotte Baptie; Maria and Sinead Kenny; Anita stepped up and demonstrated the talent that abounds in British musical theatre casts. Baptie’s soprano voice soars during her duet with Maskell and her quirky ‘I Feel Pretty’ showed her versatility as an actress. It was heart breaking to see her acting in the finale which was full of emotion. Kenny gave a scorching performance as Anita, dancing as if her feet were on fire with a Latin fever. No one in the audience would have thought these two talented ladies were understudies and I predict a fabulous theatre career for them in the future.
A special mention must be made to set designer Paul Gallis whose stark Manhattan skyline back projections and harsh buildings give a feeling of a melting pot that is about to boil over. The all enclosing set highlights the feeling of being unable to escape, something that reflects the situation that the jets and Sharks find themselves in. Renate Schmitzer creates stunning costumes, particularly those worn by the Sharks, the vibrancy of the colours and flashes of layers of lace stand in contrast with the pared down all American clothing of the Jets and as such emphasise the divergence among these two disparate groups. It is only when the cast perform in all- white that we get a feeling of the two sets of teenagers coming together as one, however this is not to last.
Choreographer Jerome Robbins creates outstanding choreography emphasising sizzling free flowing Latin dance routines for the Sharks which contrast with the sharp spiky dancing of the American Jets.
Bernstein’s and Sondheim’s songs are so recognisable they form an iconic part of musical theatre legacy and this current touring production reaches out to a new generation. West Side Story is a show that everyone should try and see and this touring production is no exception. Yes there are a few flaws but with a vibrant production and energetic cast this is one to get a ticket for.
Tour Photo ¦ West Side Story is on tour and runs until Saturday 3rd May 2014 at the Mayflower