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Review: West Side Story (Curve, Leicester)

Nikolai Foster directs the classic musical with Adriana Ivelisse and Jamie Muscato as the leads

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Adriana Ivelisse and Jamie Muscato in West Side Story
© Ellie Kurttz

Leicester's Curve has, under the leadership of Nikolai Foster and Chris Stafford, built on its already significant reputation as an engine room of powerhouse musicals. Within the last couple of years alone, the team there have created landmark productions of Sunset Boulevard and White Christmas – the former giving Ria Jones a proper, well-deserved outing as Norma Desmond, the latter currently gracing the West End's Dominion Theatre.

So expectations run understandably high when the Curve creative team announce that they're going to be doing what is often described as the best musical ever written. No pressure there.

The good news is that they are well up to the challenge. Under Foster's direction, this production is as thrilling and dangerous as you could wish for, with excitement, emotion and some sensational choreography. There are moments of spectacle, tenderness and high comedy. With a sure hand, Foster steers the rollercoaster through its ups and downs, teetering edgily here, sweeping expansively there.

The cast is excellent, well-drilled and beautifully synchronised, with some ferocious action sequences and superb ensemble work offsetting and accentuating the principals. The youthfully reckless gang boys are full of big talk and sharp action; their more sensible, more enlightened female counterparts are witty, wise-cracking and sparky; while Adriana Ivelisse and Jamie Muscato provide vocally strong focus as Maria and Tony, the young lovers from fatally different sides of the gangland tracks.

Ellen Kane's choreography – a job rendered almost impossible by Jerome Robbins's iconic 1961 film version – is terrific, punctuating Leonard Bernstein's magnificent score with exactly the right accents and enhancing the mood every time it's put into service. It's as seamless a part of the show as the singing or acting – something that isn't always true of the dance content in musicals. Musical supervisor Sarah Travis and musical director George Dyer's orchestrations work wonderfully, delivered with precision and verve by the 16-strong onstage band, magically unveiled in a coup de théâtre early in act one. Dyer, when conducting, is as passionate and committed as any of the performers.

And then there's that score, with lyrics by a young Stephen Sondheim and a stunning script by Arthur Laurents. It's pretty much all been said before, but the 1950s New York take on the Romeo and Juliet story remains as fresh and as vibrant as the day it was first minted more than 60 years ago. In Foster's production, with a clever set design by Michael Taylor that nods to the film with its wire-mesh cages and decaying concrete tenements, the show looks and sounds as extraordinary as ever.

There might be a few niggles about sightlines, audibility or the occasional emotional moment lost to the vastness of the Curve stage, but this is a production that takes its place comfortably alongside those earlier successes, maintaining Curve's reputation as one of the most important homes of the musical in regional theatre.

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