BritishTheatre

Published on

November 21, 2013

REVIEW: West Side Story, Currently On Tour ✭✭

By

stephencollins

West Side Story

West Side Story West Side Story New Wimbledon Theatre, currently on tour November 20 2013

West Side Story is the greatest American musical ever written. Bernstein's music is, in turns, violent, passionate, tender, expressive, comical, fiery and seductive but it is continuously thrilling and genuinely exciting. Somewhere is probably the greatest tune written for musical theatre and Tonight probably the greatest love song. There is no duet anywhere to touch A Boy Like That in terms of power and resonance.

The score also has a second life - as the basis for extraordinary, powerful and glorious dancing, the dance at the Gym providing the high point. The book and the lyrics work very well together, re-telling Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet with great clarity and insight and providing many real opportunities for great dramatic performances.

There might be quite an argument that the triple-threat was really created by West Side Story, because for it to work at full throttle, all magic empowered, everyone who sings needs to be able to dance and act equally as well. Very, very well. The glorious Ian Judge production in Australia in 1993 really showed how powerful and wonderful West Side Story could be when the casting was right. On New Year’s Day this year, there was a marvellous new production, with new choreography, at the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris and it was fresh, alive and throbbing with power.

When one sees West Side Story many questions pop into the mind : Can this be any more beautiful? Can dancing be more thrilling? Can the Tonight Quintet ever be topped? Will I ever stop crying?

The production now playing at the New Wimbledon Theatre, part of a long running tour, now directed by Joey McKneely, evokes but one question: How many s's are there in West Side Story?

Because in McKneely's hands the answer is infinity rather than three.

I doubt that a deliberately gay version of this musical could possibly be camper than McKneely's sad vision. Where there should be tough, street-wise punks there were preening prissy peacocks. Where there should be resentment borne out of fear there was bitchy one-upmanship. Where there should be sexual passion for girlfriends there was dress and hair envy. Where there should have been vulnerable adolescent masculinity there was simpering gym bunny aesthetics.

Not, for even one moment, was it possible to believe there were two brawling street gangs at each other's throats, rippling and seething with stupidity and resentment. No. Here there were pretty boys playing for the best spotlight, the costume which advertised their rippling muscles most advantageously, the position on stage where they could best search the audience for a prospective companion.

The result was dreary to the point of enervation.

It is a skill to rob West Side Story of interest and excitement, but it is a skill that McKneely demonstrated with precision and to profound effect. He was unerringly aided in this by the awful orchestration and the unaccountably lamentable conducting from Ben Van Tienan. Not a single passage of music was played with the right brio, the correct brilliance, the necessary energy, the all-encompassing spirit or at anything like the correct tempo. Not one.

Louis Maskell, such a superb Freddy Eynsford-Hill in Sheffield's My Fair Lady last year, was here saddled with a ridiculous, undermining accent, idiotic staging and an approach to the singing which robbed, almost entirely, his beautiful voice of its inherent power and lustre. McKneely and Van Tienan must take responsibility, because Maskell can certainly sing and act beautifully through song. But nothing about his Tony worked - except that one could believe he was in love with Maria.

Katie Hall was quite an effective Maria, her pretty voice entirely suited to the role and the score. Why more effort was not made to ensure that Hall and Maskell blended perfectly when they sang together is beyond understanding.

Jason Griffiths made Schrank work well enough but otherwise there were no performances to cherish or recommend.

Siôn Tudor Owen took the honours for most execrable turn (as Glad Hand) closely followed by Fraser Fraser ( yes, really ) whose "scared acting" as Baby John made Russell Crowe's turn as Javert seem perfect.

It was impossible not to feel anything but sympathy for this cast and nothing but irritation bordering on contempt for the "creatives" who think this is the way to present West Side Story to non-London UK audiences. Dumbing down the Arts - that mission is alive and thriving courtesy of this production from the Ambassador Theatre Group.

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The British Theatre website has been established to celebrate the rich and diverse theatrical culture of the United Kingdom.  Our ethos revolves around encouraging and nurturing the performing arts in all its forms. The spirit of theatre is very much alive and the British Theatre website is at the forefront of delivering news and information to audiences and enthusiasts everywhere. Our team of theatre journalists and reviewers are working hard to cover productions and news.


We are constantly developing the site and are always open to receiving feedback from our readers. Join our mailing list to be kept informed of all the latest news that is of interest to you..

ABOUT BRITISHTHEATRE

BritishTheatre.com
Opening Night Media Ltd
3rd Floor, 80 St. Martin’s Lane
Covent Garden
London WC2N 4AA

The British Theatre website has been established to celebrate the rich and diverse theatrical culture of the United Kingdom.  Our ethos revolves around encouraging and nurturing the performing arts in all its forms. The spirit of theatre is very much alive and the British Theatre website is at the forefront of delivering news and information to audiences and enthusiasts everywhere. Our team of theatre journalists and reviewers are working hard to cover productions and news.


We are constantly developing the site and are always open to receiving feedback from our readers. Join our mailing list to be kept informed of all the latest news that is of interest to you..