Adelaide Festival Theatre
West Side Story is the modern retelling of Romeo and Juliet set in New York City in the 1950’s. It is based around young protagonist Tony of the ethnically American gang the ‘Jets’ and Maria, sister to Bernardo, the leader of the ethically Puerto Rican gang known as the ‘Sharks’, and the forbidden love they share amidst a turf war fought between the two rival groups.
This production directed and choreographed by Joey McKneely, with musical director Donald Chan, is an excellent envisioning of the piece, and has a very polished and professional feel. The show features a reduced 18 piece orchestra, but does not suffer for this, producing quality sound under the skillful conductorship of Vanessa Scammell. The only issue is occasional drops in volume to cast microphones, which leaves the orchestra drowning out the lyric.
Set Design by Paul Gallis is very functional and towers over the audience. Despite its functionality it goes relatively unused in most of the show, acting more as a backdrop than levels for placing the action. The set looks even more impressive with lighting design by Peter Halbsgut, though occasionally the combination seems to descend into a scene from Les Miserable’s, and you momentarily forget what show you are watching. Black and white projection of New York street scapes works effectively with the towering scaffold, especially in the under bridge fight scene and the closing montage.
In the lead roles of ‘Tony’ and ‘Maria’, Josh Piterman and Julie Goodwin are both excellent. A few off notes sung by Piterman on opening night were disappointing, but his vocal control was always impressive and his rendition of ‘Maria’ was beautiful. Goodwin is a powerhouse and easily stole the show with her superb operatic voice. Her rendition of ‘I Feel Pretty’ was an audience favourite.
Other popular numbers included ‘Gee, Officer Krupke’ by the boys, and ‘America’ by the girls, though this was one of the numbers where the mics were too low in the chorus. Choreographically the show was very strong and featured lots of the well known finger clicks and group leaps. Synchronicity was top notch, and the timing and skill of the cast could not be faulted.
Perhaps most surprisingly however, is the acting, which really stood out in this production, and is a credit to all of the lead players. Kudos to both Piterman and Goodwin, as well as Alinta Chidzey as ‘Anita’, Nigel Turner-Carroll as ‘Bernardo’ and Rohan Browne as ‘Riff’, for their intensity and commitment to their characters. The director is quoted as having said that this show is “all about the dancing”, and there’s no doubting that’s what its most renowned for, however this cast have gone emotionally above and beyond and deliver a heart wrenching, exciting and sometimes shocking performance.
Definitely try and see this show, for first timers and fans alike, it is a production that can be enjoyed by all.
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