For a romance writer like me, there is no greater love story than that of Maria and Tony in West Side Story. Originally conceived as an updated version of Romeo and Juliet , this well-loved musical has enchanted audiences the world over since 1957. You may have seen and loved the film version and now audiences in Brisbane can watch the latest production right here at the Lyric Theatre, QPAC. She Society were excited to attend the glittering Opening Night and enjoy this thrilling and colourful musical, filled with the songs of Leonard Bernstein that you will know and love.
It was a sparkling and happy crowd who mingled in the foyer. We spied radio host Robin Bailey, arts journalist Phil Brown, fashion stylist Sally Steele and Ben from Brisbane, who you’ll remember from Big Brother. My friend and I both coveted the sequin coat dress sported by one of Brisbane’s favourite faces, stylist and model, Anna Stokes Zerner. There were masks, sequins and glamour aplenty in the fashionable audience.
Goosebumps tingled in those first few moments as the houselights dimmed and a hush descended. Opening with a strong choreographed dance sequence performed by the rival gangs – The Jets and the Sharks, the audience were transported to the Upper West Side, New York in the 1950’s, during the last days of Summer. I wanted to cry watching such vibrant and talented young men up on stage doing what they love best. Noah Mullins impressed as youthful gang leader, Riff.
The whole night proved to be an emotional roller coaster as the rival gangs are fighting for territory and tensions are on the rise. The portrayals of the individual gang members was engaging and I marvelled at the dancer’s athleticism. We meet our hero Tony working in the drugstore, Doc’s and his beautiful rendition of ‘ Something’s Coming’ has the audience smiling under their masks in anticipation. Tony is played with boyish charm by Nigel Huckle.
Our heroine, Maria, is a recent immigrant to America. When we meet her she is toiling alongside her friend, Anita, in a Bridal Shop. Played with a naïve innocence by Sophie Salvesani you will be mesmerised by her wonderful soaring , operatic voice and captivated by her portrayal of Maria. In contrast is the sassy and sexy Anita ( Angelina Thomson) who has the most colourful of costumes and dances her heart out, before breaking your heart with her dramatic prowess in the final scenes.
When Tony and Maria meet at the local dance it is the age old story of love at first sight, where boy meets girl from the wrong side of the tracks. Maria’s infatuation does not go unnoticed by her brother, Bernardo, who is played with a sultry menace by Temujin Tera, and he sends her home before holding a council of war at the drugstore.
Perhaps one of my favourite scenes was when Tony sneaks away to see Maria at her house. Here he sings Maria and the love struck pair plan to meet at the Bridal Shop before singing Tonight. The stark metal moving set comes into its own here. Tony and Maria seem destined to be together, making a new start, away from the drama of their lives. It was so uplifting and a beautiful rendition that gave me chills. Praise must also go to the orchestra led by the effervescent Isaac Hayward.
From familiar opening bars you will enjoy America where the girls, in a riot of colourful costumes, exchange conflicting views on their new lives in New York. Performer, Grace Driscoll, playing Rosalia, comes into her own with this number.
Challenges continue for the couple after they enact a delightful imaginary wedding whilst singing One Hand, One Heart. Maria pleads with Tony to stop the rumble that is about to ensue between the rival gangs.Things take a dramatic turn at the fight where Tony’s attempts to quell tempers is in vain. The gangs go on the run. Seeking them are Officer Krupke played by Bernard Schwerdt and Lt. Schrank, a convincing Paul Dawber. Throughout the show these two characters provide comic relief and relieve the tension of the gang violence. Ritchie Singer as Doc provides the voice of reason throughout the show.
Act Two begins with a sweet rendition of I Feel Pretty before Maria finds out about the terrible aftermath of the fight from Chino ( Tomas Kantor). Our love struck couple vow to still be together and a beautiful version of Somewhere delights. Tony and Maria plan to find a place where they can live in harmony. I sing this song all the next day!
Maria is questioned by police and asks Anita to pass on a message to Tony at the drugstore. Anita is unfortunately waylaid by The Jets and a dramatic rape scene ensues. Anita gets her revenge by saying that Maria is dead. Tony is wracked with grief and despair. Wandering dazed through the neighbourhood he spies Maria but the play comes to its gripping climax. The play ends with a message of hope.
West Side Story is the play we need right now. It’s gloriously colourful and vibrant , with music that you will be singing for days afterwards. The performers are so well cast and it’s great to see this ensemble working so fluidly together.The complex dance sequences were executed beautifully .They take you through the whole gamut of human emotions from uplifting joy through shock and grief to finally hope. We laughed, gasped and sang along to a score which is arguably one of the best ever written.
My only criticism is that we would have enjoyed just one more song after the bows and well deserved standing ovation. I guess it’s good to be left wanting more. West Side Story is playing at the Lyric Theatre, QPAC from July 24. It’s a rousing all singing and all dancing classic that is sure to excite the lovers of stage and musicals.
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