At the press launch for West Side Story that hits Manchester's Palace Theatre this Christmas, the director/choreographer of the show said about this production ‘It's not a museum piece' and he is most certainly right, a vibrant energetic, passionate production is what audiences can expect when the show rolls in to town.
This is West Side Story at its best, a director/choreographer (Joey McKneely) who could not be any more of a perfect fit for the show having worked alongside the original Director/Choreographer Jerome Robbins whose original production of the show helped change the face of musicals and dance in theatre forever.
Two exciting leading actors in the show (Louis Maskell as Tony and Katie Hall as Maria) who displayed their spectacular vocals during the press performances, and most of all the choreography is based on the original Broadway choreography so you can see the moves that shaped a generation.
Am I more than a little excited, then? Oh yes, can you tell?
You see I have always loved WSS, it's a musical to me that never gets old no matter how many times I see it. Today the musicals that excite me are much more contemporary such as American Idiot, Bare, Next to Normal etc but that says a lot about how fresh the story of the Jets Vs The Sharks still feels.
The musical is a rare one indeed, you see with this show every component came together perfectly in 1957 when it opened on Broadway. The stunning music and lyrics by Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim, a strong book by Arthur Laurents and the perfect direction and choreography by Jerome Robbins . The team created a perfect musical, something only a few show creators can say they have achieved.
Amazingly the show was not an epic success when it first opened on Broadway, the reviews were mixed though all agreed that it was one of the most unusual shows they had seen, unusual because it didn't have a happy ending and its portrayal of street kids, immigrants and young love was realistic and at times brutally played.
The show closed after 734 performances (a respectable run but less than all was hoping for) but luckily the UK production and subsequent productions all went on to be huge hits and the show hit legendary status very quickly, especially with the release of the movie version that proved a huge hit with audiences and critics and also the Oscars. Based on of course Romeo and Juliet, WSS has been thrilling audiences for over 50 years, but it still feels as fresh today as it did when it first opened.
Growing up as a kid in Yorkshire I knew I wanted to be a dancer and it was the film version of WSS and the film version of Fame that fed my passion. I would dance the roles frequently throughout my training knowing that one day I would want to be cast in both shows. I got to perform for a long time in Fame (though sadly the musical is not the gritty exciting work that the film was) but never got to dance a role in WSS.
I still watch the film now hanging on every word and every movement and whenever I have seen the show on the stage (most recently the Broadway revival a couple of years ago) and it's a great production I feel even more alive, nothing can beat hearing the opening number and watching the superb choreography by the gang members, the vibrant energy of "America" or the haunting "Somewhere."
After seeing the 2005 production I know we are in for a real treat this time around and you best believe I will be at a few of the performances with my eyes glued to the stage. It may not have a gimmick like a flying witch or a falling chandelier..... because it does not need one, what it has is more heart, soul, passion and energy than anything else that you will see on the stage.
This really is a 'rush out and buy a ticket' show, it's the perfect way to spend a cold Dec/Jan night in the beauty of one of the best regional theatres playing host to one of the best worldwide shows.
Sure you could spend your money on a Panto, but for the same price you are going to see something..... perfect.
Till next time.
- Craig Hepworth