West Side Story
New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham
Wednesday 2nd April 2014
Jerome Robbins’ original production of West Side Story was first staged in 1957 and was a game-changer. Since then we’ve seen numerous musicals come and go. So, over fifty five years later, the question is – has it stood the test of time. The answer quite simply is yes. The theme of opposing gang culture is as relevant today as it was back then.
The story is one as old as time – boy and girl meet, fall in love, but destiny is against them. It is based on the love story to end them all – Romeo & Juliet (we even get a balcony scene) but it’s not necessarily the story that is the main attraction. Those honours really go to Leonard Berstein’s stunning score, Stephen Sondheim’s wonderful lyrics, and Jerome Robbins’ ground-breaking choreography (lovingly reproduced here by Joey McKneely who also directs).
A young and energetic cast of thirty three tackle the choreography with much exuberance – especially during the “Dance at the Gym” stand-off, “Cool”, and the beautiful ballet sequence (“Somewhere”). It seems unfair to pick anyone out from the talented ensemble but Matthew Hawksley really stood out as Action, getting his chance to shine centre stage in the very well received “Gee, Officer Krupke”.
Another stand-out performance comes from Djalenga Scott as the sexy and fiery Puerto Rican Anita (very reminiscent of “Ugly Betty’s” sister Hilda). One of the best female roles in musical theatre, Ms Scott brings all the aspects of Anita’s character to life. A highlight is her duet with Maria – “A Boy Like That/I Have A Love” which they both perform outstandingly.
That brings us to our star-crossed lovers. Louis Maskell plays Tony. Not physically like any other Tony I’ve seen but actually a nice change and very warming character. His voice is fantastic and would give Josh Groban a run for his money.
We had an understudy Maria for this performance, which can incite some reservation. However, I have to say, if we had not been told that it was a stand-in we would never have known. Charlotte Baptie played Maria with so much confidence it was as if the part was hers and she certainly made it her own. Her voice is beautiful and she made a great pairing with Louis.
You’ll know most of the songs in this show but a special mention must go to the “Tonight” medley which closes Act 1. A very difficult piece to sing but the cast did it more than justice.
As for the set, the stage was actually quite sparse but with a clever use of 1950’s New York projection and industrial fire escapes (all designed by Paul Gallis) it made us feel like we were right there in the neighbourhood.
4.5 stars. Robbins would be proud.