Review: West Side Story
This production of West Side Story - hailed by The Guardian as "the greatest dance musical of all time" - celebrates the show's 50th anniversary. Quite an accolade for a production that in 1957 almost didn't happen. A backers' audition had failed to come up with money, the producer pulled out and all other producers had turned down the show deeming it too dark and depressing.
Leonard Bernstein, the composer, said: "Everyone told us that West Side Story was an impossible project ... Besides, who wanted to see a show in which the first act curtain comes down on two dead bodies lying on the stage."
But Stephen Sondheim persuaded Hal Prince to read the script and as soon as he heard Sondheim's lyrics set to Bernstein's innovative music, he was hooked and the show became a huge success. But has it endured? It certainly has.
The West Side Story team based the story on Romeo and Juliet, and transposed the warring factions in Shakepeare's play to the then American and Puerto Rican New York gangs of the fifties whose actions create fear and violence mirror the inner city gangs of today. And the show pulsates with energy.
Using the original production, Jerome Robbins choreography - which innovatively in the 1950's combined contemporary and classical dance - captures the tension, movements and interactions of gang relationships. (Reputed to be ruthless, Robbins demanded he receive a 'conceived by' credit and as a result made changes without consulting the others. By the time the show opened on Broadway the atmosphere in the team began to almost resemble the atmosphere in the show, with none of the collaborators speaking to him.) The music is wonderful. Bernstein's lush compositions, almost operatic in places, combined with Sondheim's lyrics create memorable songs like Maria, Tonight, Cool.
The roles themselves are demanding, requiring performers who can dance, sing and act. In this production, the doomed lovers were played by Daniel Koek as Tony, who is with the American gang the Jets, and Sofia Escobar as Maria who is the sister of Bernardo, leader of the Puerto Rican gang the Sharks.
Daniel Koek is a very talented singer. He has the ability to effectively combine all emotions in his singing - joy, sorrow, longing. Jayde Westaby as Bernardo's girlfriend Anita came across as a great feisty character. In the dance scenes, the energy of the cast was hypnotic moving at times with balletic precision. The acting perfectly evoked the arrogance and defensiveness of delinquency, particularly Dan Burton as Bernardo; Howard Jones as Riff, leader of the Jets, and Brendan Cull as Action. And Sophie Jake Gilbert as Graziella, one of the submissive coquettishness dolls. This production confirms that West Side Story is still one of the best musicals being performed today.
Tuesday 5th - Saturday 16th May
Matinees - Thursday and Saturday 2.30pm