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Brief Encounter With... West Side Story director Joey McKneely

As the 50th anniversary revival of West Side Story continues its run at Sadler's Wells ahead of a new national tour, we catch up with its director/choreographer

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Mr West Side Story: Joey McKneely
How does it feel to bring West Side Story back to London?

Fantastic! London audiences are so supportive of our West Side, so it's a pleasure to bring this classic hit back to the Sadler's Wells.

Has the production changed since it was last here in 2008?

Well, I had the opportunity to work with [book writer] Arthur Laurents on the 2009 Broadway Revival, which gave me a greater insight into the libretto. I feel I have a richer understanding of the characters this time around. And I am always looking to how I can improve the storytelling.

You once appeared in West Side Story - did that influence your vision for the production?

I danced in the West Side Story Suite, which Jerome Robbins created for his retrospect show in '89. It is the choreography which influences me the most. Plus, the desire to create a West Side Story which appeals to an audience of today, not a museum piece of the past.

Was it a challenge to put your own stamp on it?

I think if was a very natural approach. It was very easy to let go of the past physical production. I believe the challenge for me was to, and always is, get these young performers to reach deeper into their emotions then they have ever been asked to do.

Are keen to emphasise that the themes the show addresses are still relevant?

I don't have to emphasise it… it's a fact! Racism is still an issue. Always will be when there is fear. It's really a show of shattering innocence. I believe that is what makes West Side Story so truthful today, as it was in '57.

Do you have a favourite number in the show?

I am always asked this question. How to you pick your favourite child, when you love all of them equally?

What made you want to be a director/choreographer in the first place?

Funny enough, it was West Side Story. After working with Jerome Robbins, I was so inspired that I wanted to inspire other dancers like myself. First came the choreographer. After working with some very talented directors, I became even more inspired to reach higher. La Scala Opera in 2000 was my first director/choreographer show and it was West Side Story - the genesis of this production.

Career highlights to date?

Guess! Others include Smokey Joe's Cafe and The Life. As a performer, roller-skating in Starlight Express back in the 80's.

Besides West Side Story, what else are you working on?

I am working on a musical, Josephine, about Josephine Baker, and a contemporary musical called Shadows. Just need a theatre for both, so hopefully you will hear about them soon...

Are there any plans for a new film version of West Side Story, and if not do you think there should be?

There are whispers, but I don't know if it ever should be done again. I mean, why remake Gone With The Wind, Grease, The Godfather, The Wizard of Oz?

West Side Story continues at Sadler's Wells until 22 September before embarking on a national tour, visiting Oxford, Liverpool, Sunderland, Manchester, Wimbledon and Bristol.

Come on our hosted WhatsOnStage Exclusive at the New Wimbledon Theatre on 21 November 2013 and get your top-price ticket and a FREE programme all for £35.00!