Theatre fans that braved the stormy Auckland winter weather on June 22, were heartily rewarded at
The Civic on the Opening Gala Night of the hugely successful international touring company production of West Side Story, directed and choreographed by Joey McKneely. As moving and emotive a story as ever, this incredibly talented company squeezed every fragment of sentiment from the text with their exceptional vocal and dance performances.
We’re introduced to McKneely’s Jets and Sharks in the opening number of West Side Story, with splashes of colour in the clever wardrobe choices, dazzling choreography performed against the innovative efficiency of minimalist theatrical scenery; which threads together in an extravaganza for the eye and a true love letter to the original text and the 1961 classic film adaption a little I’m sure.
Tricky use of background action and lighting creates an exciting, cinematic effect adding to the swell of action as the events surrounding West Side Story‘s crescendo unfold. Characters from the Jets and the Sharks race from turf to turf as the lighting chases after them through the shadowy beams of the set, adding superb gravitas to the issues at play. It’s a focus on the issues in West Side Story, that in the second act swells with discomfort as the mirrored effect of problems we’re feeling very presently in current society are painfully, but beautifully rendered and most certainly, up the emotional stakes and the pulses of the audience.
Where there is poignancy there is also joy, as Musical Supervisor and Principle Conductor Donald Chan conducts his orchestra and us, through an aural journey across one of the most popular musical scores of all time; and vibrant songs like America, I Feel Pretty and Cool, pop with life and leave you singing them as you leave your seat and all the way home. Truly an ensemble piece, each member of the company contribute their all to create a seamless, uplifting and thought provoking piece of musical dance theatre. Special mention must go to Kevin Hack‘s incarnation of Tony, who is tender yet newly masculine as a young man trying to find his place in this world. Keely Beirne‘s creation of Anita is absolutely flooring, moving Anita through a gamut of emotions from saucy and fun to bereft and broken, Beirne is unstoppable in her effort to bring the audience along on Anita’s crushing journey. Jenna Burns shines as the heart and hope of West Side Story as Maria; balancing her new experiences with a naivety that is enchanting and boasting a vocal performance that stuns. Lance Hayes (the Jet’s Riff) and Waldemar Quinones-Villanueva (the Shark’s Bernado) deserve a nod as they do an incredible job with their short amount of stage time, to get us onside with the conflict and they also just oooze the cool the makes us want to pick a side.
Joey McKneely’s West Side Story is rejuvenated and invigorated for today’s audiences and is nostalgic yet fresh, featuring a fantastic display of dance skill. I absolutely loved my trip to the West Side to be swept away by this powerful story. Be warned though, there are limited tickets available left across the entire run of West Side Story last time I checked, so make sure you get your tickets as soon as possible because you really don’t want to miss this world class touring company performing for you.
I wanna hear what you love about West Side Story. Have you seen it live, perhaps performed in it yourself? Let’s chat in the comments…