From the very first note of Bernstein’s iconic, full bodied and rich score to the tragic, doomed silence that follows the last, Curve’s revival of West Side Story is magnificent.
It’s a story that requires no explanation, a tale as old as time. As Curve’s Artistic Director, Nikolai Foster (White Christmas, Grease) transports audiences to 1950s New York; to a city of urban decay, Michael Taylor’s set is large and looming. Four wired fences make the confines of darkened alleyways, sports courts and fighting rings, and cage in rustled teenagers misplacing their energy and discomfort with the hand in which they are dealt. Foster allows them to climb, to look into with wonder and to try to break down their frustrations. Over at Doc’s bar, the bright red of Coca Cola provides the artificial comfort and light of consumer culture whilst discarded televisions and fridges lie broken and flickering in a pile of rubble. Watching in the wake is Anybodys (Beth Hinton-Lever), a girl who desperately dreams of joining local gang, the Jets. Enthusiastic, eager, and lovestruck, Anybodys is a well welcomed informal narrator to this story.
Two gangs; the Jets and the Sharks, with the same ache for inclusivity and pride for their individual roots and family, try to dominate their part of the city. The Sharks, Puerto Rican natives, donning bold floral prints and a glow with opportunity. The Jets, New Yorkers with ballsy attitudes, faded blue jeans and hungry with dissatisfaction. Set over no more than 48 hours, West Side Story provides a stark snapshot of gang culture and street violence.
‘Dance At The Gym’ provides the epic, cinematic scope for our leads to meet. Performed by a magnificent fifteen piece orchestra, led by George Dyer, the 10 minute scene fuses delicious sultry salsa licks with sensitive, soft melody as Tony (Jamie Muscato) and Maria (Adriana Ivelisse) take their first tentative steps towards one another. Ellen Kane’s contemporary new choreography is a triumph - stylish, refreshing and complex. With hip swings a-plenty, nifty tricks and fast feet, it is a feast for the eyes. A close contact battle fought through movement with kicks and burning passion to feel something real and raw.
Muscato’s foreshadowing solo, ‘Something’s Coming’, was the perfect introduction to our leading man. Performed with the subtle hint of a smile, almost in hushed whisper, Muscato melted audiences with an undeniable charm and elegance that relayed to the much-awaited recital of ‘Maria’. Ivelisse played Maria with a dignified innocence, she is lovable and giddy. Together, the pair are exquisite. All gooey smiles and lovestruck giggles, Muscato and Ivelisse are captivating from the moment that their eyes lock. Awe-inspired, audiences will root for the love of these dreamers.
Sondheim’s timeless lyrics and Bernstein’s haunting score support the fresh foundations of Curve’s production. The devastatingly violent scenes of the rumble and attack on Anita are fraught and powerful, immigration deportation scenes are nightmares accompanied with foam fingers and popcorn, and glimpses of cartoons taunt from grayscale screens. It is the talented supporting cast; in particular the childlike humour from the Jets, and the glamorous attitude of the Puerto Rican ladies, who provide some of the most memorable sequences.
Against a tattered American flag, are a group of kids. They are all hoping for a better tomorrow, whilst wishing it was yesterday. A backwards and small-minded sense deriving from the despair of poverty. The story may be on the surface, boy meets girl, but it is so much more than that. This is a story told for today.
Star of the show
Making her professional debut, Puerto Rican native, Adriana Ivelisse is every part Maria. Her performance is a delight to watch. ‘I Feel Pretty’, albeit short, captures the thrill of her presence. Ivelisse’s operatic vocals are topped with the differentiating curl of her accent, that will swim in your heart for long after the show.
Following the devastation of the rumble, ‘Gee Officer Krupke’ is performed away from the action and breaks the fourth wall. Using the curtain as their performance space, the Jets boys (Ronan Burns, Ryan Anderson, Isaac Gryn, Dale White, Alex Christian, Michael O’Reilly) absolutely stole the show and earned their place in the hall of fame of musical theatre history. Their rendition is tight and smooth, almost a national anthem for delinquents. Choreographed as a spoof Charleston with clever hand shakes and puppet smiles, they reel off their excuses for their bad mannered behaviour and had the audience in hysterics.
Best musical number
Anita (Carly Mercedes Dyer) leads her two ladies in favourite, ‘America’. Performed with comedic elegance and gusto, the women dream of their homeland highlighting the financial distress of the country combined to that they have found in Manhattan. Though simply designed with just the three and girlish smiles as they swish their frocks at one another, the song receives the greatest applause of the evening for their exquisite vocal talent.
Pay close attention to
The design from the creative team leave much to be unpicked with your eyes. Although mostly dark, the details that have been placed are to be feasted on. Be it the individually designed wedding gowns, the hanging garments on the line, or the eager eyes of Anybodys presence at the back of a scene, let your senses take over and wander to explore.
Pulls on the heartstrings
The etherealness of ‘Somewhere’ is captivating as the company unite for the dreamlike number. Intertwining, stunning vocals from Muscato and Ivelisse turned from angelic to menacing - a theme prominent throughout as the score hypnotises with sharp and slick twists and turns.
One to watch
Carly Mercedes Dyer’s Anita is a force to be reckoned with. Confident and sassy, she is the inner strength of the story. A lover, a friend, a fighter. ‘A Boy Like That’ struck a chord for independence and self-determination. Dyer dominated the stage.
West Side Story plays at Curve 23 Nov - 11 Jan.