herald

Monday 23 April 2018

powerful scenes save dated show

IT takes a minute to figure out what's going on in West Side Story – and even longer to warm to its premise.

Romeo and Juliet in New York, Arthur Laurent's take on rival teenage gangs battling it out in alleyways is often considered a classic. The 1961 movie was a hit, winning ten Oscars. Back on the stage, however, it feels slightly deflated.

Sometimes, the characters express themselves solely through dance. The Jets talk in that funny New York drawl that we only ever hear in musicals. Oh, and it doesn't help that the chap portraying Tony looks a little uncomfortable in the presence of a live audience. Then again, despite its debt to Shakespeare, West Side Story always had its own unique identity.

Jerome Robbins' original choreography is certainly over the top, and Katie Hall seems to think that she's playing a different Maria. But it's what happens when the Jets (arrogant local kids) get mean with the Sharks (confident Puerto Ricans) over who controls what in the neighbourhood that this wobbly offering of love, hate, pride and violence occasionally finds its feet.

You know the deal. Former Jet Tony (Louis Maskell) falls for one of the Sharks' sisters, Maria. It's just a pity that a 'rumble' between the two gangs ends badly. But, hey, it's the '50s. It's also a musical. So, there's always room for romance, even after a grizzly double-murder.

complex

There is zero chemistry between Hall and Maskell (strong singers, bad actors), so it's a good thing the rest of the cast work well together, flying though complex dance routines and snappy tunes (America and an enjoyable I Feel Pretty included).

The boys overdo it (Jack Wilcox as Riff thinks he's Brando) and the girls play up to every stereotype expected of them. The surrounding buildings and fire escapes remind us just how small the rivalry really is.

Again, parts of it feel dated and unfocused (a washy dream sequence completely lost me). But that doesn't make some of the more infamous scenes (the attack on Anita and West Side Story's deeply depressing finale) any less powerful. Remember, it's Romeo and Juliet – and things didn't exactly work out for those two, did they?

3 STARS

Running until November 9

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