Music: Leornard Bernstein
Lyrics: Stephen Sondheim
Director: Joey McKneely
Reviewer: Chris Williams
West Side Story is constantly being voted in the top – if not number one – in lists of musicals. With the Broadway dream-team of Leonard Bernstein, Stephen Sondheim, Jerome Robbins and Arthur Laurent’s book based on William Shakespeare’s play, this is one musical that is still relevant and beloved.
At the heart of West Side Story is a love story, probably the greatest love story of all – Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. That classic has been brought in to the 20th Century, 1950s New York. The Capulets and Montagues become the Sharks and the Jets, rival gangs consisting of Puerto Rican immigrant and American teenagers. The star crossed lovers are Tony, an ex-member of the Jets, who falls in love with Maria, the sister of the Sharks’ leader. If you know your Shakespeare you know the story, and this version sticks closely to the narrative of the source.
The cast are flawless, in every respect – singing, dancing and acting. In particular the two central characters – when Louis Maskell’s Tony stands alone, centre stage and sings ‘Maria’ you’ll be transported back in time to 1950s Broadway and its golden age. Katie Hall’s Maria has a beautiful voice, and her accent faultless. Djalenga Scott’s performance also stands out as the fiery Latin Anita, girlfriend of Maria’s brother, and she gets some of the best secondary numbers (the comic upbeat ‘America’ and the dramatic ‘A Boy Like That’). Initially thought too dark for Broadway this is a dramatic musical, but the humour is provided by Sion Tudor Owen’s characters Officer Krupke and Glad Hand; and Sondheim’s satirical lyrics to ‘America’ and ‘Gee, Officer Krupke’.
West Side Story is as much a dance show as it is a musical. The choreography is iconic and much imitated, but there is nothing like seeing the real thing. Joey McKneely’s choreographic direction is both thrilling and moving, and the challenge is for anyone not to be moved by the balletic ‘Somewhere’/’Procession/Nightmare’ sequence. The set at first looks simple but reveals itself to be more effective, as well as being able to fold away for the dance numbers, making it seem as if you are watching a ballet as if the dances are taking place on a naked stage. The lighting is also well designed to create atmosphere, the red of the blood rising high in the tension between the gangs.
West Side Story is a classic musical that well deserves that particular adjective, a timeless story with timeless music, and there is not one flaw in this immaculate production. This is great theatre!
Runs until Saturday 23rd August 2014 | Photo by Alastair Muir