West Side Story (QPAC 2010)
It's dynamic, contemporary, provocative, and just a little bit controversial. It's one of the most iconic musicals - strong and beautiful - and the story is strangely compelling despite its age and period setting. Over fifty years later, through race wars, drug wars, bikie wars, gang wars, this morality tale of warring neighbourhood factions still resonates as strongly today as it did at it's premiere in '57. Sondheim's score is stunning, Bernstein's lyrics catchy-as-hell. And this latest rendition of West Side Story ably conveys all the things that make it great.
Julie Goodwin embodies the excitement and naivety of Maria, and Josh Piterman is a strong Tony. I've always found the Maria/Tony storyline to be the weakness of the musical, but Goodwin and Piterman deserve credit for making that a difficult distinction. They are convincing in their roles, and are matched beautifully - their voices complement each other well, and you can't help love Goodwin's wide-eyed optimism and Piterman's determinism.
The raw intensity of Riff and Bernando (Rohan Browne and Nigel Turner-Carollarea respectively) bounce off each other and duly emody the violence and intensity of their roles. But Dan Hamill steals the show as Action. Arrogant, hot-headed, and overly agressive, Hamill is everything you love and loathe about the character. In terms of the cast, the ensemble is mostly well-constructed. It's hard to balance the whiteness of the female Jets with their supposedly Puetro Ricean heritage, and that continued to grate throughout the show. But the voices blend well and hold their own against such an iconic score.
The orchestra is vibrant and energetic, and well-balanced against the singers. Vanessa Scammel continuously creates great ensembles and I was pleased to see her back on the bill.
The staging is minimalistic, but effective; the video effects are subtle, but well-utlised. The costuming is just so darn pretty.
My greatest complaint about this musical has little to do with the production, but the source material. Romeo and Juliet has always been one of my least favourite of Shakespeare's canon. The language is stunning, the characters well-drawn, but the story....uuuurrrrrrrr. And this urgh-feeling carries through to West Side Story. The Maria/Tony storyline is so sickly-sweet their songs give me a toothache. But the ending, always, always causes an internal emotional battle between frustration and utter emotional devastation. Curse you!!
All this aside, this production hits all the marks it should. It's raw, it's loud, and the music pops in all the right places.
Now, if we could just do something about the toffee-covered Maria and Tony....