Milton Keynes Theatre
16 September 2008
50 years young!
It’s been 50 years since West Side Story hit the stage, and I swear that, as a show, it just gets better and better with a soaring and emotional score that fills your heart and Jerome Robbins original choreography lovingly reproduced and truly standing the test of time.
It’s therefore always a worry, when you go and see a production of a show that you love, that it will live up to your expectations and thankfully, this anniversary show did – mostly!
It is essentially a very good production. The dancing is top notch, especially from the men. Robbins’ powerful balletic moves capture the mixture of youthful exuberance with underlying violence and this company’s troupe of men really do it justice.
And there are also excellent voices throughout, which made me bask in the wonderful music and yearn to get up on the stage and join in!
The set is versatile, if a little noisy at times, and the interaction between the Jets and the Sharks, and the animosity between incomers and “natives” made me really mindful that we face the same problems today.
My main bug bear with this production was that I didn’t really “get” Tony and Maria. The show itself doesn’t really give a lot of explanation as to why they fall for each other so quickly, you just have to accept that it is a lightening bolt/love at first sight moment, but it is possible to accept it – I’ve done it before! The fact is that it’s easier to accept if the chemistry between the two is so electric that you can’t fail to see why they were attracted to each other. The problem here was that there really wasn’t much of a connection between the two of them.
Daniel Koek as Tony has a beautiful singing voice, really powerful with a gorgeous tone that I could have listened to all night – but he looked much older than Maria and dressed a bit like an insurance clerk, or, as one audience member said more insightfully, a teacher. Now, I’m not saying that people can’t fall in love with insurance clerks and teachers instantly, I’m sure you can, but when your Maria looks about 13, the relationship looks and feels a little inappropriate!
Sofia Escobar as Maria also had a fantastic voice and looked really sweet, but I wasn’t convinced that she loved Tony. It wasn’t that she wasn’t trying, it just wasn’t there. Sometimes actors go well together, sometimes they don’t, it’s not their fault. I’m sure that individually they are a great Tony and Maria but together they were in their own little worlds and not each others.
But while I was a little disappointed by the main pairing, the show itself is a wonderful night with a young, exuberant and talented cast. I particularly enjoyed the performance of Jayde Westaby as Anita and, after seeing Clive Francis in The Dresser at the Watford Palace last week, was delighted to see that his young son Harry was following in his talented footsteps in the role of Baby John.
All in all, it’s a good production of a classic, and despite some casting deficiencies, it still shows West Side Story up as a show that makes many newer musicals look thin and uninspiring.