I’m thrilled that a bit of the West End has come to the Alban Arena and a new production of West Side Story is about to begin! As we take our seats, the stage is set and smoke spills onto the stalls. I settle into my seat and sip my hot chocolate looking forward to revisiting all those familiar songs.
Inspired by Romeo and Juliet and set in New York’s Upper West Side in the fifties, the Montagues and Capulets are replaced by two rival street gangs battling for control of their territories. Bernardo is the leader of the Sharks and Riff, of the Jets. When Tony, a Jet, meets Maria, Bernardo’s sister, love strikes like a lightening bolt.
This play is a classic with lyrics by Sondheim and music by Bernstein; it became a worldwide musical hit when it first came out in 1957. The film was then adapted from the musical and in 1961 swept up a whopping ten academy awards!
We’re introduced to the Jets in the opening scene. I love the synchronized dance moves, clicking of fingers, and sound of police sirens turning into high-pitched French horns and trumpets just like in the film!
The stage is set for the dance and packed with the entire cast. The music blares out and suddenly Tony and Maria appear at either end of the stage, the lights turn blue around them and silence takes a hold. They are powerlessly struck down by cupid’s arrow. We, the audience enter a timeless space with them both and there is a feeling from that moment on that their intense young love will be doomed.
There are some vibrant complex jazz pieces by Bernstein and modern dance expressing both the joyous and darker side of a passionate love between two teenagers. Their perfectly harmonized voices fill the stage; I’d forgotten that there are so many classic songs like Somewhere, Tonight, Maria, I feel pretty. America is a delight; the choreography is energetic and upbeat, as the ruffled hemlines of colourful dresses crash through the air.
I notice the conductor’s hand become more animated from the corner of my eye, as the dramatic scenes intensify; it is precisely in these moments where the audience gets swept away in emotion that he must concentrate the hardest to deliver the precision of the musical score. After the finale we feel as if we have been on an emotional roller coaster ride and we applaud with enthusiasm, captivated by such a talented cast.
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