IT’S a frosty night, but find the right venue, and you’ll truly sizzle in the heat of the back streets of New York a lifetime ago.
What a brilliant idea to bring West Side Story to the city for Christmas. Not a twinkle of tinsel. No panto dame in sight. And the festive fun melts into oblivion as this, the musical version of Romeo and Juliet, bursts onto the stage with joyful emotion and threatening bad blood.
The story needs little introduction – two gangs (the Sharks and the Jets) are at war and on an imaginatively simple set, they square up, spar and by and large back off. There are many violent edges but the lads toughing it out make for entertainment. They are, to a lesser degree, the “hoodies” of their day.
A tangle of chaotic metal brings to life the shoddy, overcrowded Big Apple slums, and wonderful lighting adds to the drama and the romance which “just happens” between Jet Tony and Shark’s sister Maria. That loving liaison can’t happen, mustn’t happen but it does in a swirling mix of emotion, mixed with lust, jealousy and seething hatred.
West Side story is a musical, a ballet and a play, and with its roots in Shakespeare’s ink-well, it creates it’s tale with slick ease thanks to a stunning cast of singers, dancers and actors.
Memorable images are left in a myriad of scenes featuring principals Tony and Maria, the doomed lovers. As Tony, Louis Maskell maintained a towering strength of energy, and common-sense. A great actor and singer, alongside Katie Hall who took Maria by storm, she sparking brighter than a bus battery her voice superb.
The whole production had class and style and in this praise the Bard, as well as the iconic Sydney Bernstein’s music, and Stephen Sondheim’s lyrics which brought us those utterly superb numbers ... Marian, Tonight, America, Somethin’s Comin, America and I Feel Pretty.
This is a don’t miss show – and one which will give a welcome rest from the tinsel and turkey.
West Side Story is showing at the Palace Theatre, Manchester, until Saturday, January 4.