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BWW Reviews: WEST SIDE STORY- Tonight! The Show Must Go On!

Amongst the array of wonderful shows that The Production Company has brought to the stage, West Side Story, the adaptation of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, is without a doubt a triumph! Celebrating their 50th show, with what is often deemed as the best written musical of all time with book by Arthur Laurents, music by Leonard Bernstein and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, was definitely a decision well made.

Artistic Director of The Production Company Ken Mackenzie- Forbes AM, welcomed the full house to opening night at Melbourne's State Theatre at the Arts Centre with a brief thank you and just a little announcement that sent a gasp throughout the audience... Principal cast member, Deone Zanotto playing the role of Anita was suffering from laryngitis! This reaction was quickly settled with news that the vocals would be sung by the very talented Amanda Harrison and the dialogue spoken by the wonderful Natalie Gilhome. It is Melbourne after-all and it just goes to prove that "we are but mere mortals"! As the saying goes, "the show must go on"... and did it ever!

With Orchestra Victoria and Musical Director Guy Simpson on stage in subtle view behind the simple but effective set constructed of wire fencing and scaffolding, the stirring overture began and the beautiful score was immediately brought to life. Capturing our attention too were the performers filling the stage with action and movement recognized Worldwide. Re-staging original choreography by Jerome Robbins, Choreographer Michael Ralph who managed not only to hit the mark, but to do so in such a tight rehearsal schedule deserving the highest of praise. To choreographically re-create such a show as West Side Story, notated in detail for the choreographer just as notes in a script for a director, even to the untrained eye, is no mean feat!

Stand out performances were without a doubt, firstly the wonderful Gareth Keegan as Tony, who brought light and shade to the role and enabled us to believe that his love for Maria meant more to him than his own life. His vocal skills were second to none, showcasing his range and seemingly effortless control in numbers such as Something's Coming and Maria. Tony's love interest, Maria played by the stunning and extremely talented Anna O'Byrne, was played with true conviction. O'Byrne played to the strengths of the character, giving Maria a sense of childlike abandonment and then a sense of maturity in moments of passion and deep emotion, especially evident in that of the final scene. Vocally she was flawless and sung with such skill, highlighting the beauty in the score, soaring into the heavens in numbers such as Tonight and One Hand, One Heart.

Although we were not privileged to hear Deone Zanotto bring her version of Anita to life in its entirety, what we did see was a true commitment to the role as she demonstrated inner strength and power in her emotions and a bright and zesty sense of purpose in her movement, showcasing her obvious skill as a dancer. If we were not told of her sickness, then we would be none the wiser as her performance and others working alongside Zanotto were flawless. Supported by two other actresses and the entire company really highlighted the skill, resilience and persistence of all performers and their ability to step up to the plate - truly admirable!

The character of Bernardo and leading his striking Sharks, was brought to the stage with gusto by the handsome and dashing Adam Fiorentino. Sean Mulligan did an equally admirable job with his talented Jets in tow, although styled and costumed in what was uncharacteristically too reminiscent of 1950's Rockabilly, skilfully livened up the stage in numbers such as Cool and Gee, Officer Krupke.

Proving that it doesn't take a lead role to make an impression were various smaller and cameo roles such as Glad Hand played by Glaston Toft with his perfectly timed comic stylings, breaking the tension of the Sharks and Jets at the infamous Dance At The Gym scene. Neil Melville as Schrank, successfully teaming up with Dean Vince as Officer Krupke, Sage Douglas with her energetic portrayal of Anybody's and Bianca Baykara as Rosalia, brought a bright light to the stage. All of the chorus were well cast and gave their heart and souls taking on the choreography and music, with punchy accents and suitable vocals.

The wonderful and accomplished Director, Gale Edwards has brought to the stage, together with the talents of the cast and creatives, a well-paced and polished performance. This was evident in the seamless progression from scene to song allowing the performers to approach this wonderful classic with strength, courage and true heart-felt emotion from start to finish.

With the cast taking their final bows to much deserved rapturous applause, The Production Company definitely set the standard high for what I'm sure will not only be a very successful run of this timeless musical in West Side Story, but also of their up and coming shows for 2015... Something's coming, something good!

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From This Author - Leanne Marsland

Leanne graduated in 2008 with a Bachelor of Arts in Music Theatre from the Ballarat Arts Academy with credits including, Sally Bowles in Cabaret, Lady (read more...)