More than 50 years old and West Side Story still has the power to resonate strongly in the hearts of a modern audience. This is partly due to the music of Bernstein but mostly, I believe, due to the timeless nature of the story. This classic tale of love transcending racial and tribal differences descends into violence and retribution. At one level there is no happy ending and yet there is still a hopeful optimism expressed in the reprise of Somewhere as Jets and Sharks combine to take Tony’s body to a better place.
The set gave the right impression of urban neglect combining first floor rooms (Juliet’s balcony) with ground level mean streets. Doc’s Drugstore, the bridal shop and Maria’s bedroom were all created from swinging flats and large props. Together with atmospheric lighting the ambience was in turn threatening or romantic as appropriate. I was mightily impressed by the choreography; even the boys, not usually known for their footwork, were excellent in the set pieces. Bart Lambert’s Riff especially seemed to exude testosterone and was aggressive to his fingertips. This was reflected in the power of his movement, which never became effeminate despite some very balletic movements. Callum Crisell’s Action was also powerful, walking around like a coiled spring. Baby John elicited maternal feelings from the mums in the audience and all the Jets gave a very strong account of themselves, whether dancing or during the brilliant Officer Krupke number. Whenever Jets and Sharks met on stage the tension was palpable, as it should be. Although the plot gives the Sharks less to do they were a strong counterpoint to the Jets and I actually felt Bernardo (well played by Henri de Lausen) had been given a rum deal having to face the giant Jet.
The girls on both sides also danced beautifully, with America a favourite of mine. Alice Masters had the Latin looks of a feisty Puerto Rican and worked very well with Maria in A Boy Like That. Maria (Emma Bennett) had a wonderful innocent vulnerability that contrasted well with Anita’s attitude and experience. Maria’s relationship with Tony was also very credible. Sam Toland was a very relaxed and yet controlled Tony. Vocally excellent he also had the maturity of a leader that could see beyond his immediate environment. One hand, one heart was particularly touching and the movement of the dress dummies around the shop was clever.
The one part of the show that didn’t quite work for me was the ending. The absence of a gunshot meant that the emotional shock was missing and this made the subsequent death scene and Maria’s soliloquy lack force. No doubt this was a one off technical problem but it demonstrates how such simple things can influence audience perception. Nevertheless, this was a thoroughly enjoyable production and possibly the best I have seen from Young Gen for a while.
Reviewer – Stewart Adkins, NODA East, Regional Representative, District 8