Written by Celeste Villani
Sharks, jets, sequins and a gun, West Side Story, six months into its Australian tour, shows no sign of slowing with every actor and musician putting their best dancing shoe forward.
Fifty-four years since its debut, West Side Story still vividly portrays a teenage gang war in a slum district of New York, capturing the essence that Jerome Robbins, original director and choreographer, intended.
The musical explores the bitter tension between the Sharks, a Puerto Rican street gang and the Jets, an Anglo- American gang, chronicling how both groups endeavour to live together.
When each character is combined with energetic choreography, vibrant costumes, angelic voices and creative direction, the production comes to life, expressing the traditional story of Romeo and Juliet in a new-age light.
Covering standard musical theatre topics such as romance and tragedy, this musical covers themes mostly left untouched in musical theatre including racism, death, rape and murder, all portrayed sensitively to the Australian audience via the direction of Joey McKneely.
McKneely, a seasoned musical theatre performer, involved in the Italian and French versions of West Side Story, interpreted each character and theme using a fresh approach, especially the New York Romeo and Juliet- Tony and Maria.
Josh Piterman played Tony, co-founder of the Jets, similar to that of Richard Beymer (who played Tony in the 1961 film version), yet adds his own charismatic touch to the role.
Piterman’s immaculate voice was able to hypnotise the audience during his rendition of ‘Something’s Coming’ and his endearing approach to the role mesmerized not only Maria, but also every female sitting in the audience.
Maria, played by Julie Goodwin, captured the innocence and gentleness of the Puerto Rican beauty Maria and must be commended on her musicality and acting abilities as the Caribbean accent she utilizes could make anyone believe she were a native.
However, the true standout of this production was Alinta Chidzey who plays the sexy and sassy Anita whose dance moves and singing voice hypnotized the audience.
From tender scenes with Bernardo (Nigel Turner-Carroll) to the dire rape scene, Chidzey proves she is an all-round performer and her portrayal of ‘America’ kept the audience wanting more.
Music, led by Vanessa Scammell, hits all the right notes and choreography by McKneely expressed what words could not and added an extra dimension of pizzazz to the show.
Overall, the Australian cast of this production could be described as ‘West Side Glory’, a true credit to Australian musical theatre and a mould for aspiring musical theatre talent to follow.