THEATRE REVIEW: West Side Story, UK Tour

Norwich Theatre Royal

West Side Story UK tour
West Side Story UK Tour

Many musicals are endowed with the epithet “one of the greatest of all time”, but surely there aren’t many more deserving of it than West Side Story. Very few shows have that combination of riveting score, pulsatingly passionate love story, electrifying choreography and simultaneous senses of grace and ferocity. This production started life at Sadler’s Wells back in 2008 before being revived in 2013 and embarking on tour, all in the safe hands of director and choreographer Joey McKneely, who has spent 13 years with the show in various incarnations. The result is a classic West Side Story that reminds us why the magic of this Leonard Bernstein, Stephen Sondheim and Jerome Robbins collaboration will never fade.

There is a powerful heart and soul beating at the centre of this production, from the bold, colourful staging to the thrilling choreography that is beautiful, sensual and violent, sometimes all at once. Having worked with Jerome Robbins, McKneely’s work is very similar to the original, but it still feels brilliantly fresh – no revisionist take is needed when the movement feels as modern as it ever did. The scenes of the ‘The Rumble’ are skilfully created through fluid dance that yet creates a tangible sense of danger, something that I remember made a forcible impression the first time I saw the show so many years ago.

Dominic Hodson shines as Tony, with faultless vocals that vibrate with richness and emotion, and he gives a suitably gorgeous rendition of the tricky ‘Maria’; Katie Hall as Maria herself is equally as impressive with a soaring soprano and a real sense of gravity as she moves from girlish excitement to anguish. Elsewhere, there is strong support from Jack Wilcox as Riff and Djalenga Scott as the perfect Anita – all sass and bravado in Act I, but moving in her anger and heartbreak in Act II. The ensemble work together flawlessly, with group numbers such as ‘Tonight (Quintet and Chorus)’, ‘America’ and ‘Gee, Officer Krupke’ bringing great energy to the stage.

lets this fifty-year-old musical shine to its full potential with passion, power and promise for the future… it seems that West Side Story might carry on making us weep and cheer forever.

Indeed, Bernstein’s wonderful musical numbers could hardly fail to excite, and here are backed by an impressive orchestra who fill the auditorium with the iconic score. The only criticism is the diction of the cast: perhaps it is the sound balance that causes the problem, but if I weren’t such a die-hard fan as to know all the words (no shame there), I’d struggle to pick them out. However great the tone and passion, Sondheim’s lyrics needs to be there more precisely too.

Yet this is a minor point in a show that, without doing anything particularly new or surprising, lets this fifty-year-old musical shine to its full potential with passion, power and promise for the future: with fresh young casts and creative teams taking on the show with gusto, it seems that West Side Story might carry on making us weep and cheer forever.

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