Presented by Opera Australia and GWB Entertainment
Reviewed 29 Nov 2019
I never tire of hearing the wonderful Leonard Bernstein score that is West Side Story. When they took Arthur Laurents’ book and combined it with Bernstein’s music and Stephen Sondheim’s lyrics they created a stunning show that stands the test of time. Just like the Shakespeare original, Romeo and Juliet, that the story is based on, the themes are eternal. Set in a moment in time where the language may sound strange to modern ears the ideas remain: the tragedy of prejudice, violence and love – a heavy mix.
This production is technically superb. Paul Gallis’ set design is impressive: the balletic way it moves to give the ‘close up’ on the action gives a filmic feel to many scenes. The tall structures allow the feeling of the canyons of fifties New York, emphasised by the black and white projections. The lighting, designed by Peter Halbsgut and operated by a skilled team, provides atmosphere, giving intimate areas for smaller scenes and shadows for the dramatic moments, with illumination for the open scenes. Renate Schmitzer’s costumes are era appropriate and colourful especially in the Dance At The Gym and America.
The cast of dancers are wonderful with director and choreographer Joel McKneely mostly staying true to Jerome Robbins original dance moves. From the opening the energy and skill of the cast is magnificent, mesmerising in the street dance scenes. The Ballet Sequence and Somewhere are particularly exceptional. Donald Chan as musical director and conductor has put together a strong orchestra, which supports the singers well and makes the most of the Bernstein magic.
The cast, for the most part handle the acting well, and the standard of the singing is high. A special joy is the staging and singing in the finale of Tonight. Both of the leads, Todd Jacobson (Tony) and Sophie Salvesani (Maria) have some vocal problems, maybe due to opening night. Jacobson lacks strength in some areas and Salvesani has a little too much vibrato, but it didn’t really spoil the performance. It should be noted that the leads for this show are very hard to cast, they must be exceptional in all three areas – singing, dancing and acting!
Noah Mullins did well as Riff and Kenau Gonzalez was a strong Bernardo with Molly Bugeja making a mark as Anybody’s. There really are too many good performances to mention individually but for me the stand out performance was Chloe Zuel as Anita. Her character development throughout was strong, culminating in a great version of A Boy Like That and a memorable Taunting scene.
West Side Story is an iconic show and this is a memorable production, go see it!
Rating out of 5: 4.5 stars
Reviewed by Fran Edwards
Venue: Adelaide Festival Theatre
Season: 29 Nov – 8 Dec 2019
Tickets: $59.95 -$119.95