The revival of this classic stays true to the original while keeping it fresh and contemporary. Highlights include snappy renditions of ‘America’ and ‘Gee, Officer Krupke’, both of which still feel relevant today. It’s a shame Maskell is such a disappointing Tony.
Otherwise known as Romeo and Juliet: The Musical, this has a few twists – the rival gangs are poor, the slurs are racial and the heroine lives.
Gallis’s set makes symbolic use of the iron fire-escape-style balconies, which come together gradually throughout show. They unite in the lover’s balcony scene before coming apart again. Black and white photographs of buildings projected onto the background evoke 1950s Manhattan.
The excessively camp first twenty minutes are a blur of dialogue, exclamations of ‘spic!’ and hard to differentiate costumes. But the dancing is sharp, the choreography as powerful as ever.
Cid and Wilcox are well cast as Bernardo and Riff, respectively. Unfortunately, Maskell’s Tony is underwhelming. He has a nice voice and his acting is passable when directed closely, (as in ‘One hand, one heart’, where the lovers address mannequins and play dress-up). But his solos are weak and unengaging; I wouldn’t have noticed him without the spotlight.
Hall is perfect as Maria, convincingly innocent with a commanding operatic voice. Scott gives a spirited, funny performance as the feisty Anita, in a correspondingly bold fuchsia dress. She is especially sassy in ‘America’.
The contrast between Hall’s strengths and Maskell’s weaknesses are particularly apparent in their portrayals of grief; she has the audience in tears, he has me giggling. Hall commands the stage with a few powerful gestures and even the guy next to me who was dozing (next to his rapt, weeping girlfriend) wakes up.
The ‘Somewhere’ dream sequence makes interesting use of offstage singing and the dancing is haunting. The tone changes completely as the characters, dressed in white and laughing, are flooded in red light for the re-enactment of Riff and Bernardo’s deaths.
The quintet is also fantastic, the tension building as the spotlight alternates between the Jets and the Sharks. The characters are staggered across the stage and balconies with Tony in the middle, Anita above the Jets and Maria over the Sharks to represent the character’s tangled loyalties.
The lighting, staging and direction are faultless, the dancing, and choreography as sharp as ever and the social aspects of the story, most powerful in ‘America’ and ‘Gee, Officer Krupke’, are infuriatingly relevant. This feels like a contemporary production, in spite of, or perhaps because it sticks so closely to the original.
- Book by Arthur Laurents
- Director: Joey McKneely
- Lyrics: Stephen Sondheim
- Choreographer: Joey McKneely
- Music: Leonard Bernstein
- Cast includes: Katie Hall, Louis Maskell, Djalenga Scott, Javier Cid and Jack Wilcox
- The Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury
- Until 19th July 2014
- Time: 19.30
- Review by S. A. McCracken
- 16th July 2014