One of Broadway’s greatest dance musicals has arrived in Singapore. Inspired by Shakespeare’s tragic tale of star-crossed lovers Romeo and Juliet, West Side Story tells the story of an ill-fated modern-day love affair, exploring themes that remain ever so relevant even in today’s society.
Set in the mid-1950s, the musical explores the rivalry between the Jets and the Sharks, two teenage street gangs of Upper West Side neighbourhood in New York City. The Jets, an all American white gang, repeatedly clashes with the Sharks, immigrants from Puerto Rico to the Big Apple.
More trouble erupts when Maria, the sister of the Shark’s leader, falls in love with Tony, a former member of the Jets and best friend of its leader. The idealistic young love struggles amidst turmoil and chaos caused by differences in values, culture and ethnicity. No prizes for guessing how this story ends. But beyond the dark and sombre undertones of the musical, the universal message of acceptance, tolerance and love will be sure to reach out to international audiences and multiple generations. It is remarkable that this musical – dubbed the “Greatest Broadway Musical of all time” remains so relatable in the modern world.
First staged on Broadway in 1957 and celebrating its 60th anniversary on 26 September, the musical adaptation promises to deliver a stunning choreography, captivating storytelling and unforgettable score. The production is helmed by musical director Donald Chan, who has directed more than 3000 performances of the musical, and himself, the pupil of Leonard Bernstein who created the music for the original production.
The live orchestra, made up of 21 world class musicians, will have you singing along to the familiar and iconic numbers like “Maria”, “America”, “Somewhere” and “Tonight” in no time. The multiple styles of music – incorporating classical, ballet, jazz and Latin – adds an interesting and refreshing dimension to the score. Paired with the enchanting and operatic voices of the leads – Tony (Mark Koeck) and Maria (Natalie Ballenger), the melodies will be sure to tug at heartstrings and leave behind the aftertaste of sweet agony. Special mention to Anita (Keely Beirnes), who delivers a charming and emotional performance as a confidante to Maria and girlfriend of the leader of the Sharks.
The vibrancy and colours of the costumes along with the stunning choreography serve up a visual feast and will surely leave audiences enthralled. The high-energy dance routines by the all-American cast are passionate and impeccable. The dances incorporating gang warfare are especially powerful and impressive, yet still managing to delve into the deeper issues of troubled youth and juvenile delinquency in the streets of New York. My favourite scene had to be Gee, Office Krupke, where the hoodlums recount the perils of poverty, lacking societal acceptance and having a “social disease”.
Overall, West Side Story remains a timeless classic that still finds its place in today’s society. After multiple revivals and going through different casts and orchestra, catch it to decide for yourself if this version delivers what it promises.
What: West Side Story
When: 13 to 30 September 2017; Tue to Fri: 8pm; Sat (16 Sep):1pm & 6pm; Sat (23 Sep):2pm & 8pm; Sun:1pm & 6pm
Where: Grand Theatre, Mastercard Theatres Marina Bay Sands, Singapore