Music: Leonard Bernstein
Lyrics: Stephen Sondheim
Director and Choreographer: Joey McKneely
Original Choreographer: Jerome Robbins
Reviewer: Lu Greer
When West Side Story was first staged in the 50s, it not only brought a fresh and contemporary feel to the classic Shakespearian tragedy Romeo and Juliet, but it breathed a new life into the musical scene itself. By bringing the classic story to New York, and combining it with the big apple’s grime and gangs, as well as some show stopping song and dance, the show was of course an instant classic. Now though, as the show bares down on its sixtieth anniversary, it naturally raises the question; how will the music, the dance and indeed the entire feel of the show, as it initially did with the Shakespearian script, update itself for modern audiences?
From the opening moments of the show, it is clear that choreographer Joey McKneely has attempted to marry the iconic dance with the power of modern styles, helped by some simplistic yet striking sets (Paul Gallis). As the Sharks and Jets are introduced, it is clear from their barely considered aggression and intricate dances that in this aspect, if nowhere else, the show has managed to combine the old and the new. Javier Cid (Bernardo) and Jack Wilcox (Riff) exemplify this threat, and mix it with the overconfident and self-assured attitudes needed to portray the rival gang’s leaders. At times though, this is somewhat lost as Wilcox’s accent seems to lose its way and is overpowered by the seemingly more confident Cid.
Dominic Hodson (Tony) and Katie Hall (Maria) offset this anger wonderfully, and they play the innocent and love stuck pair with delicacy and grace. Katie Hall as Maria achieves this particularly well, as the purity and power of her voice throughout the show allow her character to shine through the gang drama. It is during her last moments on the stage though, as she holds the audience completely in the agony of her character, that she shows her ability as both a singer and an actor.
In this very male dominated show, it is particularly noticeable that the star shining alongside Katie Hall is Djalenga Scott as Anita, who utterly steals the spotlight. A possible drawback of West Side Story is that many of the characters can be seen as two dimensional, but as Anita moves from the fiery woman full of attitude to the broken and grieving girlfriend sublimely, Scott shows that there is far more to her character than meets the eye.
While this version of West Side Story doesn’t really feel much more up to date than the original, it does have some excellent choreography, a strong cast, and two utterly exceptional performances from Katie Hall and Djalenga Scott. Realistically, only so much could be done to update this musical, and so the 1950’s songs in particular can feel dated, slow and a little laborious to younger members of the audience and to fans of contemporary musicals. Overall, though this performance will reaffirm many old fans’ love of the show, and may even gain a few new fans along the way. And really, for a show pushing sixty, what more can you ask for?
Runs Until: September 13th| Photo: Alastair Muir