A Modern Re-telling of the Tragic Conflicts of Romeo and Juliet Still Appeals
Lyric Theatre, Brisbane, Saturday July 24
reviewed by Adelle Givney
The near capacity audience at the Lyric were excited to be at the opening night of BB Group’s production of West Side Story, presented by Opera Australia and GWB Entertainment. Directed and choreographed by Joey McKneely, with a live orchestra under the able direction of Musical Director Isaac Hayward, West Side Story was a feast for all the senses.
The sets were compelling but simple, with a clever use of a screen to indicate where the scene was taking place by use of large vintage Manhattan city scapes. Lighting was gritty at times, suiting the ambience of the scenes, but I do feel that it was too dark in a couple of scenes, meaning I was straining to see exactly what was going on.
Nigel Huckle (Tony) and Sophie Salvesani (Maria) were outstanding in their lead roles. Both have performed extensively in productions across Australia. Huckle has performed many roles internationally and was a member of the critically acclaimed Australian vocal group The Ten Tenors. Salvesani was recently named a Principal Young Artist with Opera Australia, performing in Opera Australia’s recent production of The Merry Widow at the Sydney Opera House. Huckle and Salvesani worked cohesively together, with their voices beautifully complementing each other.
Angelina Thomson (Anita), Noah Mullins (Riff) and Temujin Tera (Bernardo) are all professional young Australian performers, and bring this experience with them to the stage. They showed well developed characterisations and, in particular, Thomson showed a maturity with both her acting and singing, especially as she had the most confronting scene to portray – with the audience silent and holding their breath throughout it.
For many of the young cast, this show marks their professional debut – and they perfectly embrace the youthful characters of the rivalling gangs – the Jets and the Sharks. West Side Story was choreographed by the legendary Jerome Robbins and this production demonstrates that he created some of the most iconic, original and evocative dance routines in this musical re-telling of the basic Romeo and Juliet premise. The dance numbers featuring the Jets and Sharks are high energy and showcase their fabulous talent, such as with synchronised jumps and leaps across the stage. This is definitely a production that showcases the male cast members, and would be an inspiring live experience for many a young male dancer.
The highlight for me was the beautiful staging of “Somewhere”; with its dreamlike, heavenly sequence, where all the characters depict harmony in their peaceful interactions – a great hope for then and now. With all the cast in white versions of their ‘gang colours’, the choreography flowed with the soaring music and voices, and received the biggest accolade of the night.
The final scenes, while raw to watch, were depicted honestly by the cast.
It was unfortunate that the cast’s microphones did not appear to be turned up high enough, and it was difficult to hear some of the singing over the wonderful orchestra. Hopefully that has been since been rectified.
While this production could have been stronger in some aspects, there is still plenty to like in this most famous of classic Broadway musicals. It is playing at QPAC until August 22.