This tragic romance has always been about the individual consequences of divisions in society. It was not new when Shakespeare created the Montagues and Capulets as rival houses. Jerome Robbins originally proposed a musical that pitted Catholics against Jews, but as the years passed before the show the rivals changed into white Jets versus Puerto Rican Sharks.
It is strange how such a well-known musical as West Side Story can take on a different dimension simply because of when it is performed
It is strange how such a well-known musical as West Side Story can take on a different dimension simply because of when it is performed. The show hasn’t changed but the contemporary context has in just a short space of time. Either the racial tension in this production by Stage 84 – The Yorkshire School of Performing Arts was deliberately highlighted or the current climate just makes it seem more poignant. Whichever it might be the outcome is a musical in which racial resentment is delivered with such bitter venom as to make it heartrending.
As for the performance itself the company puts on a spectacular show. This year the recorded soundtrack works well and the cast synchronise with it perfectly. The costumes are authentic and the girls clearly have a sense of pride in their colourful period frocks and skirts. The set is versatile and adeptly manoeuvred creating clearly defined locations with furniture that looks suitably aged. The chorus is powerful throughout. The boys deliver depth and harmonic density while the girls soar lightly. Together they also perform some spectacular dance sequences with remarkable precision. In fact the chorus and choreography form the highlights of this production. Talent abounds in this show with key players carving out strong characters and giving powerfull performances, though there’s a casting weakness that undermines the whole show and prevents it from being the truly great production it has the potential to be. Despite that it remains a delight.
As the UK works its way through the aftermath of a referendum clouded by immigration issues and the USA faces an election campaign, one side of which vilifies Mexicans and muslims, West Side Story has never been more relevant and this production comes as salutary warning of the consequences of setting one group against another.