Eileen Caiger Gray reviews West Side Story at Sheffield Lyceum theatre
For more than half a century, since 1957, following a battle to stage a musical that features such raw and gritty realism, West Side Story has been a classic that has wowed audiences all over the world. With its winning mix of Romeo and Juliet tragedy of love, conflict, feuding and death, woven through with vibrant song and dance, and Bernstein-Sondheim melodies to melt the heart, this production, too, earns a fair share of whistles and whoops.
Large strutty structures of simple balconies and cleverly manoeuvred stair ladders fill the stage, set against alternating backdrops of vibrant colour and monochrome images of Manhatten, before which the gangs of Jets and Sharks dance with admirable balletic agility, doing justice to director Joey McKneeley’s energetic, elegantly choreographed patterns of stylised fights, thuggery and even rape.
One drawback of stylised rivalry and thuggery, though, is that it can lose that sense of palpable tension, hostility and immediacy. We could do with some more of that. Splendid immediacy comes, though, from Katie Hall as Maria, the sweet, floating, spine-tingling tones of her beautiful singing filled, at every moment, with life and emotion. (No wonder the Phantom of the Opera was so taken with her!)
Djalenga Scott is another who is vital and engaging and she has great stage presence as feisty, fiery Anita. Songs in which either or both women feature like Tonight, One Hand – One Heart, I feel Pretty, and A Boy Like That, earn heavy applause, as does Maria’s harmonies in classic duets with Tony (Louis Maskell). The more comedic numbers, America and Gee, Officer Krupke, from others of the ensemble, are big favourites too, while particularly impressive is an idealised scene, in which many of the ensemble are dressed in dreamy white to sing and dance a haunting Somewhere.
Musical Director Ben Van Tienen enjoys himself so much as he conducts his way through this iconic score, he’s just about dancing himself!
Eileen Caiger Gray
The show tours next to Canterbury, Plymouth, Cardiff, Liverpool and Norwich