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West Side Story – The Playhouse, Edinburgh

Writer: Arthur Laurents

Director: Joey McKneely

Choreography: Joey McKneely (Based on original work by Jerome Robbins)

Music: Leonard Bernstein

Lyrics: Stephen Sondhein

Reviewer: Michelle Haynes

It’s hard to believe that when it was originally written West Side Story had a rough battle to get accepted by producers or even gain funding. Now regarded as a classic, Joey McKneely takes us back to 1950s New York once again, as West Side Story hits Edinburgh with a bang. With an energetic cast bravely tackling Jerome Robbins original choreography, prepare to be out of breath just watching as the Jets and the Sharks battle it out in the back alleys of New York.

In the well-known modern twist of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, two lovers from opposite gangs fight to be together in the midst of a violent and chaotic feud. In a chance meeting at the dance Tony (Louis Maskell) and Maria (Katie Hall) fall in love, and thus ensues the classic Shakespearean romance where loyalty to family or to your lover is tested to the limit. With added concepts of sexual violence, including a rape scene targeting Anita (Djalenga Scott) who gets caught up trying to resolve matters, we are reminded that this is not just a cotton candy feel good musical, but something slightly grittier.

Don’t expect the unexpected as this classic musical delivers exactly what fans of the story or anyone who has read Romeo and Juliet will anticipate. This however is not necessarily a negative as Joey McKneely’s reproduction of the original choreography is exemplary. With only very minor hiccups the entire ensemble are near faultless in their performance, executing fight scenes and dance numbers with equal vigor. Paul Gallis’ set design is another great feature of the show. Designed as the classic back street staircases of the city’s brownstones, the multi-level set shows great versatility as it is transforms into the bridal shop, pharmacy and even the famous lover’s balcony. Its muted brown colouring is the perfect backdrop for Renate Schmitzer’s vibrant costumes which also pop against the projected images of the old tenements of 1950’s New York.

The real highpoint of the show is Louis Maskell’s performance as Tony who makes the audience fall in love with him as much as Maria. His vocal range is flawless; with not a note even a semi-tone out of key. Drawing you into the performance, he carries the other cast members who are just that bit below his standard and is a real credit to Bernstein’s music and Sondheim’s lyrics. Praise must also be given to the rest of the Jets who give tremendous energy to their “Gee, Officer Krupke” scene which adds some light relief among the more serious second act, although some of the New York accents seem to be a bit of a stab in the dark which is slightly off-putting. In saying that, the musical as a whole is well-executed and delivers dynamic performances throughout – it is certainly a show not to be missed.

Run till Sat 29th March 2014, then touring.

 

 

Writer: Arthur Laurents Director: Joey McKneely Choreography: Joey McKneely (Based on original work by Jerome Robbins) Music: Leonard Bernstein Lyrics: Stephen Sondhein Reviewer: Michelle Haynes It’s hard to believe that when it was originally written West Side Story had a rough battle to get accepted by producers or even gain funding. Now regarded as a classic, Joey McKneely takes us back to 1950s New York once again, as West Side Story hits Edinburgh with a bang. With an energetic cast bravely tackling Jerome Robbins original choreography, prepare to be out of breath just watching as the Jets and the Sharks…

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