West Side Story review

West Side Story has high kicked and finger clicked on to the stage of the majestic Civic Theatre in Auckland.

The Romeo and Juliet inspired dance musical tells the doomed love story within the backdrop of 1950’s New York and instead of Montagues and Capulets there are two rival gangs; the Jets and the Sharks.  Each gang is defined by their ethnicity with the white Jets constantly at odds with the Puerto Rican Sharks. When Maria, the sister of Bernardo the leader of the Sharks, falls for Tony who is a former member of the Jets things were never going to end well.

The stage set was clean and simple featuring projected New York cityscape photography as its backdrop to two movable structures of metal balconies and ladders.  The lighting created dramatic silhouettes or pockets of activity as the story unfolded complementing the sometimes jarring and dominating orchestral interludes conducted by Donald Chan.

The songs of West Side Story are perhaps the most well known in musical theatre and I would assume most of us would be familiar with at least one or two of them. On the night the highlights were ‘America’, which was energetic, fast and fun and Keely Beirne was the stand out as Anita. ‘Tonight’ and ‘Somewhere’ were beautifully and poignantly performed by Jenna Burns and Kevin Hack, who played the fateful lovers Maria and Tony. Hack turned heads on the night for more than just his singing ;) and he absolutely nailed the belting solo ‘Maria’ so be prepared to get emotional.

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The cast perform perfectly precise dance moves throughout and give their all from start to finish both dramatically and physically.However, there were a few key moments where I wanted that bit of extra desperation and passion in the performances of the principle cast. Jerome Robbins’ original choreography has been recreated here by Joey McKneely, a former pupil of Jerome Robbins. This is demonstrated in “Gee, Officer Krupke” which was wonderfully entertaining and just one of many excellently executed numbers.

The famous score by Leonard Bernstein and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim may be so retro now that they actually feel very contemporary and despite the well-known nature of the songs and story one never feels detached from the drama. This show is as relevant as ever and still stands as a social commentary and passionate piece of musical theatre.

West Side Story delivers an in your face energetic musical filled with passion and drama one leap at a time.

West Side Story is on at the Civic Theatre until 2 July. They’re also presenting an Audio Described performance on 28 June & a Sign Language Interpreted performance on 27 June.

Reviewed by Ingrid Grenar

Photo Credit Johan Persson

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