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West Side Story at King’s Theatre, Glasgow

Published by: Cameron Lowe on 20th Jan 2014 | View all blogs by Cameron Lowe

West Side Story

As theatre fans we can find ourselves in the audience of a particular show more than once.  As a performer, I’ve been on stage in three separate productions of Oklahoma!  I have actually lost count of the number of times I have seen Oklahoma! from the stalls.  West Side Story may be one such show for you.  Perhaps you saw the last professional UK tour or you have caught an amateur production more recently?  But, no matter how many times you have seen West Side Story, I think this production will affect you in ways that no other production has.

West Side Story UK Tour

You see, after years ... decades (!!) of seeing this show as being driven by the Shakespearean drama and the immortal Bernstein score, I now realise these elements should always have been bound together by the dance.  Jerome Robbins’s choreography brings the music and the drama together to make the whole show a much more emotional experience and this company delivers that choreography so powerfully that I have changed my view of this classic show forever.

But look, I’m so emotional that I’ve skipped to the end of the review!  You know West Side Story, right?  Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet is modernised and reset in late 1950s New York.  Tony (Louis Maskell) and Maria (Katie Hall) come from different sides of a racial divide.  Polish American and Peurto Rican gangs wage a race hate war on the streets while the star crossed lovers try to find a future on the battlefield.  The first act entertains and enthrals in equal measure with classic numbers like Maria, America and a rendition of the Tonight reprise from the company that was simply stunning.  From the moment the curtain is raised, though, the choreography and the dance skills of this company assert themselves.  It is clear that everyone has been ballet trained and every move from character driven expression to choreographed fight is delivered with precision and style.

West Side Story UK Tour

For me, it is only the second act of West Side Story that lets the audience down; just a little.  Most of my favourite numbers have already been performed ... and I’m not a huge fan of sad endings!  However, the exuberance of Maria in “I Feel Pretty” (unaware of the tragic events from the end of first act) is followed by a moving scene of revelation and this leads to what can only be lauded as a sublime ballet sequence.  Ballets in musicals rarely work for me.  This ballet, however, was a powerfully emotional rollercoaster of innocence and hope and energy and joy and tragedy and horror.  It was simply amazing to behold.  It elevated the drama to new heights and paved the way for the “A Boy Like That / I Have  love” duet where Maria convinces Anita (Djalenga Scott) that Tony is the love of her life and that their love transcends the hate that is part of their day to day lives – an incredibly emotional scene superbly delivered.

Louis Maskell as Tony did not seem to be a natural fit for the character but proved to be an excellent vocalist.  Katie Hall as Maria was, for me, just perfect.  With the looks and character of Natalie Wood and the voice of Dame Kiri Te Kanewa she won me over in seconds.  Djalenga Scott brought contrasts of tears and laughter as Anita with superb pathos and good comic delivery when opportunity arose.  Javier Cid and Jack Wilcox as Bernardo and Riff delivered convincingly as dancers, actors and singers.  The principals were ably supported by a very talented ensemble (one or two stray accents aside).

West Side Story - Tonight

From a production standpoint this was the most impressive West Side Story I have seen.  Stark angular 3 story buildings from Set Designer Paul Gallis were bathed in beautifully contrasting hues designed by Peter Halbsgut.  Lighting queues were delivered with incredible precision (and not by a computer) – this was particularly impressive in the Tonight reprise near the end of Act 1 – jaw droppingly smooth, in fact.  Stage Manager, Howard Williamson, should be very proud of his team.  Leonard Bernstein’s score was delivered characteristically by Musical Director Ben Van Tienen and his flawless 18 piece band.

If you think you know West Side Story, see this production ... and prepare to be even more amazed.

West Side Story

Wednesday 15 - Saturday 25 January 2014
Mon – Sat eves 7.30pm
Thurs, Wed (22 Jan) & Sat mats 2.30pm
Signed Performance – Tue 21 Jan, 7.30pm
Audio Described Performance – Wed 22 Jan, 7.30pm
Box Office 0844 871 7648 (Bkg fee)
www.atgtickets.com/glasgow (bkg fee)

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