Theatre Review: West Side Story at Sadler’s Wells

West Side Story is one of my favourite musicals – and one of my favourite films – so being able to see a professional stage performance for the first time was very exciting for me. Joey McKneely’s production is exactly what I wanted: in all respects a solid and skilful rendition.

Which does mean that this post is in danger of becoming less review and more gushing, but I’ll do my best. The cast is excellent. I remember flicking through the program before the show and noticing how perfect every cast member looked in their photos. I was also very taken with the set; it’s a combination of metal girders and balconies that is beautifully evocative of the play’s setting – thought looking back on it the vertical spaces were a little underused.

West Side Story has an amazing score – but strangely and sadly there are points in the Saddler’s Wells production where the choreography doesn’t quite live up to the music. This despite the fact that the show uses Jerome Robbins’ original choreography. Saddler’s Wells has a very large stage and in this instance it has an unfortunate tendency to dwarf the actors, even in songs that are supposed to feel big.

That said, when the dance numbers are good, they are very good; the Dance at the Gym sequence is perfectly realised, with some beautifully smooth transitions that put the blur and fade effects used in the film to shame.

To go back to griping, I did also find that the show fell apart slightly in the second act. I may have got that feeling partly because I’m used to the cinematic version of the act two – which moved around a lot of songs and generally streamlined things – but nonetheless I found it confused, particularly ‘Somewhere’, here played as a surreal ballet-esque fantasy sequence.

It’s a pity, because act one was so strong. If act two had been as good I probably would have really loved this show; as it is I shall have to settle for just loving it.

West Side Story at Sadler’s Wells

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