Creator: Jerome Robbins
Book: Arthur Laurents
Music: Leonard Bernstein
Lyrics: Stephen Sondheim
Director: Joey McKneely
Reviewer: Holly Spanner
Inspired by William Shakespeare’s play Romeo and Juliet and billed as the ‘Number 1 Greatest Musical of All Time’ by The Times in 2013, West Side Story is currently touring the UK. The show marked lyricist Stephen Sondheim’s Broadway debut when it premiered in 1957, and since then has won three Tony Awards (including Best Choreography), two Theatre World Awards, a Grammy (Best Musical Show Album for the 2009 Broadway revival) and a Drama Desk Award. When it was first staged, West Side Story broke the rules of happy colourful musicals, by introducing the uglier, harsher side to human nature, and the consequences of actions and social issues.
It is easy to draw comparisons between Romeo and Juliet with West Side Story, primarily from forbidden love which develops between rival families, or in this instance, gangs. The Sharks (Puerto Ricans) and the Jets (Americans) are rival gangs on the streets of New York, and a scourge of prejudice hangs in the air. Unable to co-exist, the two gangs must fight for their turf in an all-out rumble. amid the hate and violence, exists a love between the American Tony and the Puerto Rican girl Maria, but is it strong enough to bring the two gangs together and stop the fighting?
The choreography is as exhilarating as it is immense. The young cast display a great command of technique in an innovative balance of contemporary ballet and a tougher more aggressive street style. Latin dancing is woven into the Sharks routines; routines which have become iconic with the show and replicated even outside of musical theatre. Such a challenging rôle requires a strong and agile cast at the top of their game; which is exactly where they are.
Soprano Katie Hall (Phantom of the Opera, Les Misérables) plays Maria with both the innocence of a child and the longing of a teen, with rich warm tones in her voice and a vibrato to die for. No stranger to the grief stricken rôle, her final scene with Tony is one of the most moving and heart-breaking in musical theatre. Baritone Louis Maskell (The Fix, Iolanthe) is stoic and commanding as Tony, who adopts the perfect balance of excited restraint during ‘Something’s Coming’, but there’s no hiding his powerful vocals which are utilised with such apparent ease he appears under no more strain than if he were holding polite conversation. As a couple, their chemistry is intense and palpable from the first meeting, making you believe in the magic of love at first sight. Neither character takes part in the big dance numbers, instead having a subtler more romantic form of movement.
Comedy is littered throughout and ‘Gee, Officer Krupke’ is a firm favourite of the audience. The Jets (Jack Wilcox, Matthew Hawksley, Fraser Fraser, Bruce Aguilar Rohan, Samuel Salter, Scott Rayner and Matthew Croke) show off an impeccable slapstick comedy routine while the Shark girls (Sinead Kenny, Charlotte Baptie, Katie Singh, Challyce Brogdon and Nicola Coates) and Anita (Djalenga Scott) never miss a beat in the iconic ‘America’, effortlessly capturing thecontrast between romance and reality.
West Side Story is littered with themes of love, hate, racial prejudice, poverty, conflict, loyalty, dreams versus the reality, juvenile delinquency and the extent to which we go to make an impression on our friends or rivals. With music that will stay with you, choreography that will have you skipping on the way home, and a narrative to keep generations enthralled (as tried and tested), West Side Story is not to be missed. A thoroughly entertaining and exhilarating night out.
Runs until: 31st May 2014