West Side Story Comes to the Marlowe

Something’s coming, something good… As West Side Story comes to the Marlowe, Emily Adams and Hetty Sieling watch the Sharks and Jets battle it out here in the South East.

On Tuesday night, West Side Story blew us away with its top-notch dancing, beautiful soulful singing and clever but funny delivery. Think Romeo and Juliet, but fast forward several hundred years and move to the idyllic Italian setting to Upper Westwide, New York. The same drama lives on in two rival gangs, the Jets and the Sharks. For the next two and a half hours the audience see exactly what sacrifices and consequences conflict brings.

The company, famed for its dance, was expected to deliver a slightly more dance-focussed version of the hit musical, but if that had been the intention, it was not evident: the narrative flowed naturally and gracefully with no hint of the quality of dance having an impact on the acting and music.

In fact, the impeccable dancing gave this gritty storyline a softer touch, with a lyrical gazelle like prancing creating some intriguing fight scenes. So incredibly choreographed that I was transported back to a time when (I thought) I could dance. Someone fetch me my tap shoes!

Special praise must go to Louis Maskell for his role as Tony for his particularly natural accent and his sentimental, sensitive yet instinctive young man. One must imagine it is not easy co-ordinating a complicated staging – with a simple yet effective rotating New York staircase – with challenging dances and songs, emotional depth, humour and accent. His voice was impressive, really knocking the audience out in Tonight and whilst there were many strong male characters on stage fighting for attention, Maskell effortlessly managed to draw the audience’s attention to him. After his heart-stopping rendition of Maria, there was no doubt that all eyes were on him. It certainly left us wishing someone would sing a song with such passion about us. Anyone? No? Okay then.

The costumes were beautiful, with the rivals being stylish but clearly different and the enviable Puerto-Rican ladies wearing an array of cuts and colours. Speaking of whom, these actors were impressive in their range, all the way from silliness and fun chatter to confusion to inconsolable trauma and grief. A particular favourite with the audience was the sassy and feisty Anita, played wonderfully by Djalenga Scott. Her witty comebacks and fierce dancing were a joy to watch and perfectly highlighted the stark contrast between the laid back Americans and the passionate Puerto-Ricans.

Maria, Tony’s one true love, was light much of the time, appearing young and angelic, yet the audience sensed a wisdom and assertiveness growing rather quickly in her changing attitudes towards Tony and her family and friends. The sweetness of these two love birds worked well, trapping the audience into believing in happy endings, before shocking them with the grit and menace of the gang’s rivalry.

Being a classic love story, the musical, at times and as expected, threw in a few lovebird clichés; a titanic-esque pose over the balcony and whispers of “I love you” after just one perfectly sung ballad. But then again, what’s a musical without a few corny clichés, not forgetting mine and apparently Tony’s favourite, an outstretched arm to accompany that final uplifting note of a song.

Even with the odd cliché, this musical was fresh and alive with new ideas. A must see for any musical fanatic.


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