BWW Review: WEST SIDE STORY at Arts Centre Melbourne
Reviewed by Kathleen Reynolds
I grew up listening to West Side Story, studying its iconic choreography and performing these numbers myself in community theatre shows as young musical enthusiast. It was a dream to finally see this show performed in a professional capacity by an Australian cast and let me tell you, it was well worth the wait.
This forbidden love story inspired by Romeo and Juliet is set in the upper-west side of New York City in the 1950's. Two teenage gangs, The Sharks and The Jets go head-to-head to claim their territory on the streets. Fuelled by hatred, love, loyalty and loss this musical has been dubbed one of the most successful of all time. Its award winning choreography and smash hit musical numbers like "Tonight", "I Feel Pretty", and "America" are adored by fans around the world. This Australian production of West Side Story presented by Opera Australia does not disappoint - it's near perfection.
First and foremost, Joey McKneely must be celebrated for his outstanding choreography. It's some of the best work I've seen in a long time. This musical calls for complex, intricate and lengthy repertoire to move alongside the unique staccato musical tracks. McKneely's choreography is inspiring, rejuvenating and unique all whilst staying true to the iconic symbols that West Side Story fans love. The cast are clean, sharp, and controlled, executing this extremely difficult choreography beautifully. Their energy and stamina is never once compromised. If you're partial to a tidy dance break, this production will blow your mind.
It is the first professional debut for a lot of these cast members, though you would never pick it. These triple threats owned this stage as if they had been training their whole lives for this moment, and I wouldn't be surprised if they have been. Some stand out performances include the talented Lyndon Watts who plays a powerful Bernardo and leads his role with passion and conviction. Plus he is a remarkable dancer with a mean high kick. Equally as remarkable is Chloe Zuel who plays a fierce yet down-to-earth Anita. She gives the audience some comic relief with her quick-witted humour. Tony and Maria, our two wonderful leads, are played by Todd Jacobsson and Sophie Salvesani, two talents to watch. Their voices are enchanting and angelic yet powerful and emotive.
You can tell this production has been extremely well-rehearsed. Dances were sharp and harmonies were heavenly, though this was often a fault when it came to getting lost in the story, particularly when it came to the love scenes. Sometimes the thought behind each movement felt like a force of habit, rather than a feeling. This is probably something the cast will settle into as they sink into their environment and overcome the understandable nerves that come with opening night.
If I were to recommend a show to see in Melbourne at the moment, this would be it. I'm so excited to see what's next for this incredible fresh-faced cast. The talent in our country is remarkable and you can find the top players on this very stage.