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A CurtainUp London Review
West Side Story 50th Anniversary Production
McKneely has reworked some of the choreography to give a variety and modernity and there is an extended white ballet fantasy sequence inserted for Tony and Maria's "Somewhere" at the beginning of the Second Act. Maria and Tony sing off stage as Jet and Shark boys and girls dance with each other across the gang boundaries in a white imaginary world without rivalry and conflict. They are then joined by the two dead characters Riff (Leo Ash Evens) and Bernardo (Marco Santiago) who bleed all over their white costumes.
There are two principals for each of the three main roles, Tony (Ryan Silverman/Scott Sussman), Maria (Elisa Cordova/Sofia Escobar) and Anita (Lana Gordon/Oneika Phillips) so that performances stay tip top even if they are called upon to give two performances a day. The principals have operatic backgrounds and the singing of these well known tunes is peerless. Similarly too, the singer/dancers are at the top of their profession. The night I saw the show Sofia Escobar from Portugal play Maria and Ryan Silverman from Canada play Tony I was blown away by the quality of their singing voices. In the duets, they were pure, beautiful and moving, their clarity and diction allowing all of Sondheim's lyrics to be heard.
For me West Side Story stands the test of time. With gang culture and knife crime now becoming a feature of London life, the theme is probably more relevant to London in 2008 than it was when my mother organised a group to travel in a coach from Cambridge to London to see the show in 1958/9. Later she brought me a vinyl record of the Movie Cast with that iconic red and black cover depicting the apartment block fire escapes which form the twin limits of Paul Gallis' urban landscape set at Sadler's Wells. A photograph in black and white fills in the backdrop of skyscrapers visible through the apartment blocks to the rear of the stage but these can be cleared to allow the stage to be filled with dance. The Jets wear denim and greens with orange appliqué JET logos, the Sharks dress in reds and violets and strong, hot colours. I can still see George Chakiris in that pink shirt as Bernardo.
The lighting in this production is spectacular and surely something which wasn't possible 50 years ago. In the scene at the dance in the Gym, the red lit scene turns to blue as Tony meets Maria for the first time. This bare blue stage is the scene for Tony to sing the anthem "Maria".
There are other choreographic additions to the original such as "America" being danced by the girls not initially in a large set piece but barefoot as a group of Puerto Rican girls talking about their life in New York as opposed to their life in San Juan. The highlight of the light hearted part of the show is the delicious tongue in cheek irony as the Jets give multiple explanations as to why they are delinquent with surely some of the best words in any musical in "Gee Officer Krupke!" This song has thrilling dance sequences from the men. Similarly the "America" lyrics sum up the mixed feelings of the Puerto Ricans about New York. Maybe this is why West Side Story is so successful because there is this self deprecating humour mixed in with the tragic love story. Bernstein's range of musical style adapts to each scene whether it's the full rhythmic jazz of "Cool" or the jaunty "I Feel Pretty" or a sentimental ballad like "One Hand, One Heart" and each song is special and memorable.
This gorgeous West Side Story is only on in Sadler's Wells London until the end of the month and is deservedly selling out fast, but will tour the UK until February 2009. Editor's Note: For a complete song list, see Curtainup's review of a revival mounted last year at Barrington Stage in the Berkshires: click here
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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