Review: West Side Story (Sadler’s Wells)

After the mild disappointment of my trip to see The Wizard of Oz on Saturday, yesterday was the turn of West Side Story at Sadler’s Wells, which made up for any lingering disappointment.

I’m not going to write too much about West Side Story, as I’m not sure I can do justice to either the show, or the production itself. There has also been a lot written about it, given that this year marks the show’s 50th anniversary. If you are interested, I plan to do a bit of a round-up of the articles and reviews later this week (but if you can’t wait until then, check out the Guardian editorial or a Times article.

But first, what did I think about the show?

In short, it  was undoubtedly one of the best things I have ever had the pleasure of seeing at the theatre. It’s pretty much impossible to separate the quality of the material from the strength of the production, but this cast certainly plays their part in making it such an inspirational event. There are numerous reasons for its brilliance, so I’ll try to touch on some of them (in no particular order). Apologies if this seems like a laundry list, but it’s impossible to limit myself to 1 or 2 things:

  • The cast: The part of Tony and Maria are both double-cast, and since I don’t have a programme in front of me, I’m not able to tell you who I saw. Either way though, they both gave two of the best performances I have ever seen on stage, Tony in particular. His voice was absolute perfection, and he made an incredibly tough role look easy. It would be harsh just to single out those two leads, as the whole cast is brilliant. Their combination of energy, musical talent and dance ability is really, really impressive.
  • The songs: Bernstein’s score is phenomenal, and unlike most musicals, it doesn’t rely on a few big numbers. It’s almost impossible to pick out favourite songs when there are this many classics in one piece of theatre, but ‘Something’s Coming’ and ‘Tonight’ are right up there.
  • The score: With a phenomenally difficult score for the orchestra to cope with, Musical Supervisor & Conductor Donald Chan does an extremely good job. This production made full use of its large orchestra and the sound at Sadler’s Wells was magnificent.
  • The lyrics: The young Stephen Sondheim wrote the lyrics for this show, before going on to become probably the greatest musical theatre composer ever (in my opinion at least!). The lyrics in West Side Story (with the possible exception of ‘I Feel Pretty’) are superb
  • The choreography: In this anniversary production, director/choreographer Joey McKneely has recreated Jerome Robbins’ original choreography, and it is an absolute triumph.

 

Obviously I could do the ‘critic’ thing and point out the minor flaws in the production (the set design has come in for some criticism in the reviews I have read), but frankly I don’t see the point. When a show and production are this good, I’d rather concentrate on all the good things.

The reviewers have all been generous in their praise, although rather surprisingly, it has generally received 4 stars. To put that in context, that’s the same score as recent openings Zorro and Street Scene. It’s worth disclosing that I haven’t seen either of those shows, but I find it absolutely impossible to believe that they even come close to West Side Story.

Whilst critics must continue to rate a production, and not just a show, it seems faintly ludicrous that this show is even mentioned in the same breath as some of the new shows hitting the West End. As far as I’m concerned, there’s just no contest. 

West Side Story is without doubt the best show I have seen this year. You would be mad to miss it, so if you haven’t booked your tickets yet, you’d better get a move on.

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