Thursday, 29 January 2009

West Side Story - Mayflower Theatre, Southampton

West Side Story
Music: Leonard Bernstein

Lyrics: Stephen Sondheim
Book: Arthur Laurents

Original Direction and Choreography: Jerome Robbins
Director and Choreographer: Joey McKneelyn
Reviewer: Jim Nicholson

Many “theatre buffs” will have West Side Story clearly identified as the
number one musical of all time. So does this touring version, celebrating fifty years since the show was first on a London stage, help justify such claims or not? The answer is a very clear “yes” and this tour must surely end up back on a London stage with yet another deserved and very long West End run.

My daughter, who accompanied me to the show, certainly would not have believed I was going to write the above as I grumpily lowered my, more than ample, frame into a seat at the rear of the circle with my knees digging deep into the backs of two unfortunate ladies in the row in front. “How can you enjoy something when you are a million miles from the stage and in contortioned pain” she asked just before curtain up.

Well I sup
pose the absolute quality of the show broke through that pain barrier (aided by taking up residence in the standing area for the Second Act). And of course, as the Jets would say, “I utilised my 20/20 hearing and vision, Buddie Boy”.

Right from the off the finesse and execution of the choreography was breathtaking and throughout the clever lighting design of Peter Halbsgut enabled the Jets and Sharks to share stage but appear to be in their own neighbourhoods one moment and confrontationally at each others throats the next.

Paul Gallis’s set is a skeleton version of two blocks of flats that meet and turn allowing inventive use of fire escapes, bedroom windows and inside rooms.

The comedy, delivery and sheer dance dominance of the stage by Anita (Jayde Westaby) and the Shark Girls on “America” oozed the class that the song deserves. And this was just moments after Tony (Daniel Koek) and Maria (a superb understudy in Hazel Gardner) had given a wonderful rendition of “Tonight”, with the audience still glowing from Tony belting out a show stopping version of “Maria”. What a score!

At this stage you wonder if anything can top what you have already seen and heard. Well yes it can, as we end Act One with the beautiful blends of the girls, on the upper reaches of the set, preparing for their night out, whilst, down below, our two gangs plan their evenings “entertainment”. Musically this treats us to a masterful version of “Tonight” with the full cast leaving us clearly knowing just how the expectations of the male and female are so different.

Riff, played by Howard Jones and Bernado (Dan Burton) are more than believable as our gang leaders, in actual fact by now, “dead” gang leaders.

A much shorter Second Act is still full of great songs delivered with real style. “I Feel Pretty” is followed by “Somewhere”, which from the outset of the ballet sequence through to the heart stopping love scene is both musically and visually one of those theatrical events that must be tucked away, memory wise, in your top ten stage moments of all time.

Action (Brendan Cull), Baby John (Harry Francis), A-Rab (Jay Webb) and crew give a fine version of “Gee, Officer Krupke”, milking every last ounce of the comedy with the drum beat matching each and every truncheon blow in perfect time. The 18 strong orchestra certainly did justice to the master that is Leonard Bernstein.

We all know it’s a tragic ending but any tears at the end are “tears of joy”. A night out at a quality musical you can not beat and I can assure you, fifty years on, West Side Story is still up there with the very, very best.

West Side Story runs at The Mayflower until Sat 7th Feb 2009
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