West Side Story
August 20, 2019
There are few dance musicals that are as internationally known as the result of the joint effort between the quartet of what has become well established as luminaries in the world of musical, i.e. of Leonard Bernstein, Arthur Laurents, Jerome Robbins and Stephen Sondheim.
If you think you are unfamiliar, think again – some of the songs of the score are inextricably linked to the pop cultural fabric of the 20th century.
Based on the classic Romeo and Juliet dynamic, the classic love story is transported into the concrete jungle of NYC where the Montagues and Capulets are replaced by the Jets and the Puerto Rican Sharks, rival gangs fighting over local turf.
True to its original choreography, the Australian incarnation under the directorial guidance of Joey McKneely epitomises the essence of what the nostalgic, energising melange of theatrical, dance and immensely enjoyable score set out to be.
The committed triple threat ensemble delivered on all fronts – spectacularly realised dancing incorporating jazz, Latin and ballet style elements nuanced with near pitch perfect vocal feats reminiscent of both opera and traditional styles that set the narrative elements in scene, nuanced by the emissions and ardent score of a wonderful orchestra that only enhanced the emotional pull the captivating traditional tale enacts.
A stripped back yet atmospheric set design focussing on the balconies of New York’s 1950 underclass quarters with large scenic elements moving seamlessly into place as required, put the spotlight solely on the highly energetic performances, enduring melodies and choreography.
I have seen Westside Story in NYC where it originally emerged as well as in Europe and the Australian production is in no way less dramatic, entertaining without embellishing it – au contraire the set design and unique ambience of the Sydney Opera House gives it an x-factor that adds intimacy to a finger snapping, high-kicking irresistible evening that celebrates diversity with its vivid characters and carries a simple yet powerful and universal message.
Photo courtesy of Prudence Upton