West Side Story
02/01/14 – Palace Theatre, Manchester
Joey McKneely’s vibrant adaptation of Jerome Robbins’ fresh take on Romeo and Juliet is a joyful pastime. The two New York gangs, the Jets and the Sharks take the deep resentment and bitterness to a new level as they glide, spin and jump around the stage in their designated groups. The enlightening ensemble pieces were the best parts for me, with the separate unison from the boys and the girls almost faultless. The stage also comes alive when it is bursting with dancing couples, once again in competition to be better than their rivals.
The highlight by far was America, where the Puerto Rican ladies showed off their fine dancing ability and personalities. The thrilling choreography is successful throughout in telling the classic story without being literal; graceful fights, elegant rumbles and charming gang challenges somehow still deliver the raw rage and brutality needed to convey the plot. Simple gestures such as a stomp of the foot or a sharp snap of the fingers go hand in hand with the spectacular score to enhance Robbins’ narrative.
One of the much-loved numbers in West Side Story, Somewhere was unfortunately disappointing. A brave new approach resulted in the whole cast coming onstage in clichéd white costumes to create this perfect world for the main characters. The partner work and lifts for the booming notes of ‘Somewhere…Someday…Somehow’ were beautiful, but the rest felt naïve and dated – one is left wondering why this celebrated scene wasn’t left in the capable hands and voices of Maria and Tony.
A failed utopia cast aside, the overall production was a show-stopping affair taking the audience on an emotional journey. The drama of young love, the family feuds, the highlighted American social problems, the testosterone fuelled fights, the heartbreak of loss – it is all purely experienced. Complimented with the impressive choreography, this is probably the best dance musical I’ve seen in years.