West Side Story is a magnificently visual, emotionally charged, gritty musical and a beautiful tender love story awash with dazzling colours and characters.
Leonard Bernstein, Arthur Laurents and Stephen Sondheim’s musical theatre masterpiece is based on an original conception of Jerome Robbins and is arguably one of the world’s greatest musicals. Taking inspiration from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, this is the tale of two rival gangs battling it out for control of their New York Upper West Side neighbourhood.
The turf war between the American Jets and the Puerto Rican Sharks escalates and things become complicated, as softened hoodlum Tony (Jonathan Roxmouth) falls in love with his rival’s innocent and naïve sister, Maria (Lynelle Kenned).
In the optimistic anthem ‘Something’s Coming’, Roxmouth’s range and vocal dynamics are superb, as he starts out quietly, smoothly crescendos to an exciting climax, and then returns to barely a whisper. With sex appeal oozing from every pore, his amazing talent is displayed once again as he croons ‘Maria’, a haunting homage to his new love.
Kenned soars as she sings the incandescent ‘I Have a Love’ and demonstrates a lighter side with the humorous ‘I Feel Pretty’. When Tony and Maria combine for the triumphant duet ‘Tonight’, it is pure magic.
Christopher Jaftha (African Footprint) and Bianca Le Grange (Idols SA) star as Bernardo and Anita respectively. The supporting cast comprises the familiar faces of Craig Urbani, Carlo McFarlane, Daniel Buys and Grant Admirall.
Behind the scenes
The creative team all have experience from The Rocky Horror Show, Cabaret and Funny Girl, and is headed by Matthew Wild as director, Charl-Johan Lingenfelder as musical director and conductor, and choreographer Louisa Talbot. The Fugard Theatre team has selected the finest South African talent for this production that first premiered on Broadway in New York in 1957. The superb cast of 40 is backed by the Johannesburg Music Initiative Orchestra playing Bernstein’s magnificent score.
Both the set and wardrobe deserve the ultimate accolades for mesmerising design and colourful, vibrant authentic costumes. The set design paints a grim portrait of the run-down neighbourhood, but also includes splashes of bright colours and seamless scene changes.
The choreography alone is worth seeing, but the spectacular performances, stunning musical score, compelling story and comedic additions make this a show not to be missed. West Side Story concludes with the dreams of a new generation, an aspirational message that remains the heartbeat of this show.
The show is on at The Joburg Theatre until 5 March 2017. Book your tickets here.
Images: Daniel Rutland Manners, Helen Fagan, Jesse Kramer