Sunday, 22 August 2010

West Side Story ***

West Side Story
Book by Arthur Laurents, Music by Leonard Bernstein, Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Regent Theatre, Melbourne, from August 19, 2010 for six weeks only
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Opening night review Sunday August 22, 2010

The Jets and The Sharks in West Side Story may resemble the Labour and Liberal Parties, but their street battles involve more real bloodletting and actual bodily harm than those fought at the ballot box this weekend.

Jerome Robbins’ 1957 Broadway production of West Side Story broke the mould for musicals when those brawling street kids –the white Jets and Hispanic Sharks – burst on stage performing Robbins’ brutal, primitive choreography to Leonard Bernstein’s pounding, dramatic score. Arthur Laurents’ gritty narrative about gangs struggling for power is based on Shakespeare’s warring Capulet and Montague families, and Stephen Sondheim’s cunning and emotional lyrics illuminate the characters and story.

Joey McKneely directs this production, reproducing Robbins’ dynamic, athletic choreography with a highly trained, muscular chorus of dancer-singers. They effectively recreate the lusty street battles of the Prologue and The Rumble, and the sexy, latin moves in Dance at the Gym. The versatile band plays Bernstein’s astounding, energetic score that incorporates orchestral, latin and jazz styles.

The cast competes with our memories of the movie cast, but they delight and challenge us with their character interpretations. Tony (Josh Piterman) and Maria (Julie Goodwin), like Romeo and Juliet, are central to the violence that erupts between their respective cultural groups.

There is electricity between Piterman and Goodwin who sing the impassioned romantic duet, Tonight, and the beautiful, plaintive Somewhere. Piterman sings the tender ballad Maria, and Goodwin enjoys the girlish, playful I Feel Pretty.

Alinta Chidzey, as the feisty, vivacious Anita, sings the exuberant (I Want to Live In) America in the role made famous by Chita Riviera and Rita Moreno.

The aggressively chest-thrusting, macho gang members are played by Dan Hamill as Action, Rohan Browne as tough guy Riff, Nigel Turner-Carroll as Bernardo, Brendan Yeates as Diesel and Turanga Merito as Chino. The Jets are entertaining when singing the tricky lyrics of Gee Officer Krupke by wordsmith, Sondheim.

West Side Story is a musical masterpiece and this production revives some of its stirring, musical romance and passion, its choreographic vigour, its tragic, urban landscape and lives cut short by violence and racism.

West Side Story runs for a limited, six week season at the Regent Theatre.

By Kate Herbert

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