West Side Story Review
Last night 7 year old son and I went to see West Side Story at The Bristol Hippodrome. I’ve heard great things about this sell out show so I was looking forward to it.
West side story is set on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. The score includes the unforgettable songs ‘Maria’, ‘Tonight’, ‘Somewhere’, ‘America’ and ‘I Feel Pretty’. It’s based on the winning ‘Boy meets girl’ formula, so are we in for a feel-good rom-com?
Tony is a local boy and founder of the white boy’s gang, The Jets.
Maria is a Puerto Rican immigrant, one of many looking for a better life in America and sister of the gang leader of rival gang, the Sharks.
The tragic couple meet and a passionate love for each other develops within this city, tense with poverty, racial prejudice and juvenile delinquency. So begins a fatal journey overshadowed by violence and hatred. With it’s plot mirrorining the story of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, we can be sure the lovers are not destined for a comfortable future of wedded bliss and 2.4 children.
West Side Story is directed and choreographed by Joey McKneely, using the full original Jerome Robbins choreography. From the beginning of the show, hostility between the rival teenage gangs is demonstrated through fabulously choreographed fighting. I’d taken my 7 year old with me to this show and I was a tiny bit concerned about the impression these slick, fight sequences might leave on him. Neither of these gangs look particularly menacing or how I would expect a gang to look. The Jets are pretty smart in various matching outfits such as blue jeans and satin bomber jackets. Not a ripped jean, a tattoo or a single piercing in sight. The sharks are even more sharp, turned out in a range of outfits from brightly coloured casual gear to smart suits. The Puerto Rican women also had the edge on their American counterparts with some fabulously colourful and risqué dresses – which contrasted sharply with Maria’s innocent white frock!
Following their first meeting at a dance, Katie Hall as ‘Maria’ and Louis Maskell as ‘Tony’ perform a stunning rendition of Tonight. The harmony of Katie’s operatic style and Louis’s impressive voice is beautiful. Katie Hall was a boot camp contestant for the BBC1’s search for ‘Nancy’ in “I’d Do Anything and if I ever had any doubt about the value of those shows in bringing talented singers into the spotlight, they would be quashed now. I think her voice is breathtaking and I want to hear her again.
The scenery is quite imposing with tall apartment blocks moved effortlessly around and off the stage as necessary and a scruffy fire escape provides a great balcony setting. Much of the atmosphere and passion though, is conveyed through extremely effective lighting. A stage bathed entirely in white describes a brief heavenly truce during the love song ‘Somewhere’, as rival gangs dance and smile together; a cool cornflower blue lulls us into a momentary, summery happiness but then another cycle to a shocking blood red brings us back to reality and with a bump.
I often find it tricky to establish whether a production will be age appropriate for children and this was no exception. This story is educational and current. There was a brief rape scene. To me it was disturbing and I would have liked to have shielded my child from seeing it, but I hope that he wasn’t old enough to have understood the implications of grinding silhouettes.
When the big inter-gang rumble turned nasty, I was pleased to see that Bubble didn’t just take it in his stride but was quite shocked, asking me with wide eyes
“Are those knives Mummy?!”.
There was racism from the police as well as between the teenagers, showing us that those in authority can’t always be trusted. We learn that gang violence provokes revenge, which in turn leads to tragedy.
I think it’s valuable that my son has witnessed these concepts in an entertaining, fictional context so that it might better allow him to understand when he sees them mirrored in real life news.
The only disappointment for me was that the lovers didn’t perform my favourite number, ‘Somewhere’ directly to the audience. I would have preferred to see and hear them clearly during that emotional song rather than watching a dance sequence.
On the plus side the timing and quality of the dancing was impressive, the singing was fantastic and ALL the performers were strong.
The verdict across three generations is pretty unanimous. My parents who are regular theatregoers and watched the film when it first came out at the cinema, have proclaimed this version to be stunning. I think it’s superb. Seven year old Bubble, who can be a pretty harsh judge, said it was ‘really good’ and ranked it right up there with his favourite show so far – Oliver. His score was 10/10, but perhaps more telling was that when the first act ended he exclaimed
“Surely that hasn’t already been on for an hour?!”
“No, I replied. It’s been 90 minutes.”
WEST SIDE STORY
The Bristol Hippodrome
Tuesday 28th January – Saturday 8th February 2014
Evenings at 7.30 pm
Matinees on Wed & Sat at 2.30 pm. Also Thu 30th Jan at 2.30 pm
Tickets: £15.00 – £49.50
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Disclosure: We received tickets for the purposes of this review, but all opinions are those of my parents, myself and the 7 year old!