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West Side Story

Joey McKneely's 50th anniversary staging has returned to Sadler's Wells as part of a new national tour

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
West Side Story company
© Francis Loney

The 50th anniversary production of West Side Story, arguably the greatest musical ever written, has returned to Sadler's Wells, where it looks certain to be a summer sell-out.

Directed by Joey McKneely based on the original 1958 choreography of Jerome Robbins, this is a faithful, reverential revival, and at Sadler's comes accompanied by an orchestra of impressive heft.

McKneely handles the intimate moments best; the first meeting of Tony and Maria at the dance is electric, and the dream sequence staging of "There's a Place for Us" is tender and soft as the feather pillow the ill-fated lovers end up on.

The weakness lies in the harder-edged group numbers - the opening rumble lacks a certain punch (where's the menace?) and the usually show-stopping "America" feels underpowered.

Elena Sancho Pereg & Liam Tobin
© Francis Loney
The acting company, though generally better on the dance than the vocal front, is led by two stonking leads in Liam Tobin and Elena Sancho Pereg (on press night). Tobin is all white teeth and charm while Soza hints at the fire burning under Maria's innocent exterior, which comes bursting out in heart-rending fashion at the climax.

Of the supporting cast, Penelope Armstead-Williams is a fine, firey Anita and Mark Mackillop makes up for his singing shortcomings with a step-perfect rendition of Jets leader Riff (aka Mercutio).

All told, fans of Laurents, Bernstein and Sondheim's landmark musical shouldn't be disappointed, though perhaps what West Side Story really needs now is a reinvention.

Fifty years on the show's exploration of gang culture and racism is still relevant, but the staging is frozen in time; how I'd love to see Matthew Bourne, such a favourite at this address, get his hands on it one day.

But that's for the future; for now I recommend you get in quick to bask in one of the greatest achievements of 20th Century theatre. To paraphrase the tagline of a certain fast food outlet, it's finger-clicking good.

West Side Story continues at Sadler's Wells until 22 September ahead of a national tour.

Don't miss our WhatsOnStage Exclusive at the New Wimbledon Theatre on 21 November 2013: get your top-price ticket and a FREE programme all for £35.00 - click here for info!