There are musicals, and there are MUSICALS. WEST SIDE STORY is simply THE MUSICAL.
West Side Story first took to the stage in 1957 and nearly 60 years later is still packing out theatres world wide. There is a simple reason for this show's amazing longevity and for many people being their "No 1 musical of all time". Quite simply, the creators of West Side Story - Arthur Laurents (book), Leonard Bernstein (score), Stephen Sondheim (lyrics) and Jerome Robbins (choreography) had one of those rare moments of combined genius when they adapted the classic Romeo & Juliet love story by William Shakespeare and transferred the feuding families to feuding New York gangs - the home town Jets and the Puerto Rican Sharks. Ground-breaking choreography on the gang fight scenes still stand out today just as much as they did in 1957. This is the story of Tony and Maria who fall in love even though they are from different ethnic backgrounds. Their doomed love affair and the story of those around them gives us some of the most memorable songs in musical theatre history. Songs including amongst others Maria, Tonight, America, I Feel Pretty, and Somewhere . In 1961 the now famous film version of West Side Story was made and was awarded 10 Oscars.
Performing, producing, directing (or just doing anything with) a new production must be an enormous task as past productions have set the standard so high and audiences expect the best from everyone involved.
No one going to see this show need worry that standards have slipped. Everything is up to the standard you should expect of a production of West Side Story. This is a full scale touring production with a cast of 33 on stage. The evening began before you had entered the theatre. For the first time ever, the frontage of the Playhouse Theatre had been wrapped in a photographic back drop to make it look like period New York buildings. On the pavement there was a hot dog stand and a yellow New York Taxi Cab.
Production, direction & choreography this time round is by Joey McKneely and he has done his job well. Choreography is amazing and the fight scenes between the Jets and the Sharks are timed to the second and a joy to watch. Musical direction is by Donald Chan. Set design by Paul Gallis is very good and looks wonderful on a big stage such as The Playhouse can provide. Lighting, too, is used to its best dramatic effect thoughout the show.
As always in a musical though, it is going to be the talents of the performers that make or break the production. Our two star lovers are played by Katie Hall (Maria) and Louis Maskell (Tony). Both are outstanding in their vocals, with Louis Maskell's performance of "Maria" being a highlight of the show. Both know how to emote a song and to act. Special note also needs to be given to a great performance by Djalenga Scott as Anita. The show is full of first class performances by everyone involved on stage - both dancers and singers. Quite simply, if you are not up to the task then you just do not get a part in this show it seems.
I have deliberately left out much of the story here as if you are one of the people out there who still does not know how this story unfolds and ends then I do not want to spoil your experience of the story for the first time. Simply go now and see this show while it is in town.
Review by Tom King