Review: West Side Story at the Bristol Hippodrome, January 29, 2014

West Side Story

West Side Story

First published in Theatre Gazette Series: Photograph of the Author by , arts and what's on editor

WEST Side Story, despite being more than fifty years old, proved that it still has the power to enthral its audience at the Bristol Hippodrome last night.

The story of teenage gangs on the streets of 1950s New York is based on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet; but with a sharp and deadly edge.

From the moment the curtain goes up you know you are in for something special, as the American Sharks and the Puerto-Rican Jets bring Jerome Robbins’ original choreography to life with energy and passion.

Working their way through some oh-so-familiar numbers such as ‘When you’re a jet’, ‘Maria’, ‘Tonight’ and ‘America’ every member of the cast proves exactly why they have been chosen for their roles; the beloved music by Leonard Bernstein and unforgettable lyrics by Stephen Sondheim are treated with the respect they deserve.

Black and white photographs of Old New York are used to great effect when combined with a relatively simple stage design to represent the tenement flats of the city and when brilliant lighting comes into play, together with the colourful costumes of the cast, the result is simply stunning.

There are too many outstanding scenes to mention every one, but this has to be why ‘West Side’ remains so popular with a young audience; energetic and balletic dance numbers are just as important in the production as the soulful vocal numbers. Certainly the fight scene is every bit as shocking as when it first hit the stage and the love felt between Tony and Maria in ‘One Hand, One Heart’ is almost palpable.

Louis Maskell, as Tony, sometimes struggles with the accent but his singing talent more than makes up for this minor issue, and when he performs with Maria (played by Katie Hall), it’s enough to make the hairs stand up on the back of your neck! A stand-out performance by Djalenga Scott’s Anita also has to be worth a special mention.

The 18-piece orchestra cannot fail to add an extra dimension to the production and should also be praised for their contribution to what can only be described as musical perfection from start to finish.

Intense, compelling, and sometimes even lighthearted (thank goodness for Officer Krupke!) this is one show that everybody should see.

West Side Story runs at The Bristol Hippodrome until February 8.

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