SHE’S a Sharks girl, he’s a Jets boy. They fall in love amidst gang rivalry and tragedy befalls the star-crossed lovers. This Romeo and Juliet -themed musical is no stranger to audiences worldwide. Simply replace the Capulets and the Montagues with Puerto Rican immigrant rival gangs Sharks and Jets, and a story is born in deprived New York City’s west side.
An excellent introductory 10-minute brass score is performed by The West Side Story Orchestra, conducted by musical director Simon Murray, before curtains open to reveal the first ‘neighbourhood’ scene – a mess of yobs running and shouting leaving the audience wondering where this musical was heading.
Despite the chaotic opening, the musical fortunately picks up and only gets better from then on. Famous scores such as ‘America’, ‘Cool’, ‘One Hand, One Heart’, Tonight’ and ‘Somewhere’ are brilliantly performed by the leads.
The costumes and props are basic but sufficient to transport the audience to 1970s upper west side New York. At times, the dancing is messy and uncoordinated while the New York accent is unconvincing, shifting from North-Western to Puerto Rican to American. Female leads Laura Bryant (Maria) and Zoë Tompkins (Anita) are the only characters consistent and convincing enough in their Puerto Rican parts. It is a performance where the ladies outshine the men hands down, with the climax being Anita’s energetic ‘America’ dance scene.
First Stage Production is still, as its name suggests, in its first stages of performing to the amateur stage world. But this well-rehearsed and energetic piece produced and directed by Dianne Hatton proves that their potential is huge – it is anything but amateur.
The musical sends a clear message on the malaise of gang rivalry and gun culture, but perhaps one of the most un-dealt with social problem lies in the complexity of immigrant lives and dreams, transpired in the relationship between American-born Jets and fresh-off-the-boat Sharks.
West Side Story reminds us that even if blood may run thicker than water, it is not worth shedding at the expense of human lives.