Tale as old as time: two worlds collide as star struck lovers try to navigate their way through cruel and different families as the widely popular West Side Story returns for a season at QPAC with the same cool charm it has been bringing since it's first days on Broadway. 

Opening scenes show the crossings of two rival gangs in a flurry of fantastical moves and brightly coloured outfits. The choreography was flawless (Jerome Robbins’ original choreography features) as the group move in real sync and prove that you don't need dialogue to convey the message of camaraderie, just a snap of the fingers.

The ensemble have done a marvelous job utilising every space on the stage, filling it with fun and frivolity in the dance scenes, especially in 'The Dance at The Gym’; ‘Tonight’, and when the ladies sing 'America'. Not a foot out of step as the ensemble worked in perfect unison throughout the entire show. The set design (created by Paul Gallis) is the ultimate concrete jungle as rusty steel balconies are set against the old Manhattan backdrop; grimey as the gangs who fight for the ownership of the streets (to the cool sounds of off-beat Jazz delivered by the orchestra) pushing the scenes along, reminiscent of an ‘old-timey’ steam train.

The recurring theme throughout is one of unison: collaboration seamless at every angle! The power and symbolism of lighting, also second to none, with even the simplest of colour choices conveying a wordless message. Chaotic flashes of red when fights ensue; the cool blue or ombre tones for the calming effect of Tony (Nigel Huckle) confessing his love for Maria (Sophie Salvesani) and the purest of white as the feuding sides danced in harmony to 'Somewhere' before the chaos returns in 'Procession and Nightmare'.

A big hand must also be given to Peter Halbsgut for his creative work and lighting design – impressive from onset to curtain call.

The relationship between Tony (Nigel Huckle) and Maria (Sophie Salvesani) is tender and very believable. The tale of Romeo and Juliet, the quintessential love story (thank you William Shakespeare) found its way into West Side Story with the unlikely pairing of lovers from feuding teen gangs (Sharks and Jets) who cannot see past their differences, ending in a string of tragic clashes and deaths.  When Tony sings ‘Maria', he fills the stage with his phenomenal voice, carrying over the orchestra and all the way into the back rows with ease. Singing the words ‘…the most beautiful sound I ever heard’ – I couldn't have agreed more!

Credit must be given to the entire cast for their believable relationships and sense of camaraderie. For the heart break you feel when Anita (Angelina Thomson) holds Maria (Sophie Salvasani) as they both grieve the loss of Bernado (Temujin Tera) and Maria's forbidden love. For the caring and heart warming nature of Doc (Ritchie Singer) as he tries to mentor the misguided teens to a kinder exchange with their rivals, or the mutual hate for the cruel Lt. Schrank (Paul Dawber).

Whilst writing this review, we are heading into another lockdown, highlighting the importance of supporting the arts, when it is safe to venture out again. The cast and crew have done an amazing job to bring this (and other shows) to wider audiences, in such uncertain times. I tip my hat to the tireless efforts of the many creatives who call the theatre their home and keep striving to keep the arts alive whilst we navigate these strange days. Get out, get up and don't forget to ‘…play it cool, boy…!

Event details

Opera Australia and GWB Entertainment in association with QPAC present
West Side Story
lyrics Stephen Sondheim | book Arthur Laurents | music Leonard Bernstein

Director Joey McKneely

Venue: Lyric Theatre | QPAC
Dates: until 22 August 2021
Tickets: $59.95 – $169.95
Bookings: www.qpac.com.au

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