West Side Story | Opera Australia and GWB EntertainmentPhotos – Jeff Busby

When a much anticipated, professional production of a familiar and famous musical hits town, there is a buzz in the air, and the eager aficionados turn out in eager droves for the opening night. Their expectations were met by a “curates egg” performance, in that parts of it are excellent.

Right from the opening prologue, the dancing is superb: slick, unified, beautifully conceived and magnificently executed choreography, in a set (designed by Paul Gallis) that well befits the capacious Festival Theatre stage. A lattice of multi-storey scaffolding and balconies on both sides of the stage move silently into various positions, framing huge black and white photographs of different aspects of New York city which both appropriately locate the different scenes, and also provide a variety of levels for performers.

This show puts significant demands on its performers, and so there are certain risks in presenting it with an appropriately young cast, and this young cast attacks the task with vigour and energy, which brings considerable authenticity to the show. However, amongst this display of considerable talent, overall this performance brings not complete, but a range of satisfaction.

Some of the singing is sometimes almost as accurate as the choreography. But some of the male voices struggled with their lower register, while at other times the singing and dancing melded finely, as in “America” and “I Feel Pretty”.

Todd Jacobsson brings a fine physical presence to the role of Tony, and while his lower notes needed polish, these were inconsistent with some of his glorious top notes. His voice and that of Sophie Salvesani as Maria were somewhat mismatched, so that when singing together they didn’t. She is a charming actor, but didn’t really invite everyone to fall in love with her in her role as Maria, with its demands for both innocent enthusiasm and deep pathos, but in this difficult role she portrayed a level of real anguish, as this Shakespearian tragedy requires, at the sad ending. It’s a pity that her sweet voice, which can be shrill, also has a vibrato that actually spoils the intended pitch of some of her higher notes.

Noah Mullins as Riff has a strong presence, and the experience of Paul Dawber as Lieutnant Schrank, and Ritchie Singer as Doc shows through. The standout singer was Chloe Zuel as Anita, who shone with strong acting as well as finely honed pitch and rhythm in some challenging songs (“America”, and “A Boy Like That”).

The 21 piece orchestra was impressive with its mastery over the complexities that Bernstein throws at it in this remarkable and stellar score, under the capable direction of the highly accomplished Donald Chan. Such professionalism leaves one with a satisfied sense of having experienced a large scale production of a classic that has cemented its place in the annals of musical theatre.

Opera Australia and GWB Entertainment present a BB Group production
music Leonard Bernstein | book Arthur Laurents | lyrics Stephen Sondheim

Director & Choreographer Joey McKneely
Musical Supervisor Donald Chan

Venue: Adelaide Festival Theatre | Address
Dates: November 29 – December 8, 2019
Bookings: bass.net.au | 131 246



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