Choreography: Joey McKneely from original choreography by Jerome Robbins
Director: Joey McKneely
Music: Leonard Bernstein
Lyrics: Stephen Sondheim
Reviewer: Maggie Constable
So the phenomenon that is West Side Story, one of the most successful and best loved musicals of all time, is back at Milton Keynes theatre this week after a sell-out stay in London at Sadlers Wells no less, followed by a UK tour. This production is both directed and choreographed by Joey McKneely who was previously first assistant to the great Jerome Robbins, the original choreographer in 1957. Indeed, the show uses the Robbins full choreography which is very much of the era but works extremely well and really adds to the period feel.
Set in Manhattan’s Upper West Side, the story is based on William Shakespeare’s famous tragedy Romeo and Juliet, and follows Tony and Maria, two young “star-crossed” lovers from rival gangs the Jets and the Sharks on the Big Apple’s mean streets. Puerto Rican Maria is forbidden by her family from having anything to do with Polish-American Tony, former leader of the Jets. Her brother, Bernardo, is the leader of the Sharks!!!! The tension between the two groups has reached dangerously high levels but when these two fall for each other the fuse is lit with fatal consequences. The themes in this tale of love, rivalry, violence and death still resonate today.
Leading the cast is the delightful Katie Hall as Maria, whose performance is very little short of perfection. Her soprano voice is so well suited to songs like ‘I Have a Love’ and can send shivers down the spine. She is utterly convincing as the optimistic ingénue who has found love for the first time. Louis Maskell as Tony, has great charm, is very believable and shows great control in his singing with superb tones. His ‘Maria’ is mesmerizing. Their three duets are all equally compelling in their different ways and the harmonies are lovely. The last scene certainly brings an eerie silence to the auditorium and a fair few snivels. A great pairing.
Djalenga Scott brings us Anita with style, humour and sassiness and incredible leg stretches! She has real stage presence and a powerful voice. All of these traits are beautifully exhibited by Scott in iconic song, ‘America’, that brilliant satire on life as an immigrant in the ‘new country’. Jack Wilcox gives a solid all-round performance as the muscle man with attitude, Riff.He is a sharp mover as is Javier Cid in the part of Bernardo.
The Jets and the Sharks all dance with dynamism and are wonderfully in sync. The choral singing is spot on. The production benefits from sharp direction which gives it great pace.
Paul Gallis’ set is a simple but quite an effective structure of ladders and balconies with a background screen of iconic views of New York in the 50s. The lighting is neatly executed and creates the atmosphere well, whether that be the violent tensions or poignant romance. Costumes are colourful and clearly denote the rival gangs.
One cannot go wrong with Sondheim lyrics and the Bernstein music, the latter played by a talented orchestra under the energetic direction of Ben Van Tienen.
Altogether the best production of West Side Story that this reviewer has seen.
Photo: Alastair Muir | Runs until Sat 14 June 2014