West Side Story opens in Melbourne

Often regarded as the greatest musical of all time, West Side Story is a masterful combination of music, theatre and dance – a show that any musical fan should experience at some point in their life.

Sophie Salvesani and Todd Jacobsson | Photo by Jeff Busby

Originally conceived, Directed and Choreographed by Jerome Robbins, book by Arthur Laurents, music by Leonard Bernstein, and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, the original show is an absolute tour de force. A modern retelling of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, the story follows two rival gangs fighting for control over the Upper West Side of New York City, the racial tension between the Jets and the Sharks is just as relevant as it was when the show opened in 1957.

Produced by GWB Entertainment, Opera Australia and BB Group, the show has returned to Australia for a strictly limited season, premiering at Arts Centre Melbourne’s State Theatre, before moving on to the Sydney Opera House, Canberra Theatre Centre and Adelaide Festival Centre.

Walking into the State Theatre, the room is absolutely abuzz. From the moment the audience is seated until the bows, the room is completely entranced by the performers on stage. Two-time Tony Award nominated Joey McKneely’s staging of the show has received world-wide acclaim since its London Premiere, and it is apparent how much dedication he has put into the details of both the direction and choreography. Every moment seems purposeful, every breath measured, every step deliberate. When coupled with Donald Chan’s expert musical supervision and conducting, the orchestra dances along with the performers up on stage. The simplistic set and phenomenal lighting design round out the creative vision of the production, allowing the performers to truly showcase their full abilities.

Making her professional Music Theatre debut, Sophie Salvesani is an absolutely stunning Maria. Her youth gives a beautifully authentic performance in such a well known character. In the role of her love, Todd Jacobsson’s Tony is beautifully nuanced, a stark contrast from his recent run as Elder White in The Book of Mormon. The pair have palpable onstage chemistry, with the iconic balcony scene of “Tonight” a truly gorgeous moment.

The Shark girls | Photo by Jeff Busby

Leader of the Sharks Bernardo (Lyndon Watts) and his girlfriend Anita (Chloé Zuel) are completely entrancing. A particular highlight was Zuel’s fierce and sassy “America”, showcasing her ability as a true triple threat. An absolute standout was Noah Mullins as Riff, the leader of the Jets. It is almost impossible to believe this is his first professional production – his talent is incomparable. The adult cast of Ritchie Singer (Doc), Paul Dawber (Lt. Schrank), Dean Vince (Officer Krupke) and Paul Hanlon (Glad Hand) add a pleasant maturity to the youth of the cast, despite their minimal stage time.

All ensemble performances are strong and striking, every dancer in perfect synchronisation with one another. Considering a vast majority of the cast are making their mainstage debuts, the quality of talent is immeasurable. This is the next generation of musical theatre stars, and they are a force to be reckoned with. The performances are a true testament of clear direction (both artistically and musically), and skilled performers.

An emotional rollercoaster, West Side Story is a show like no other. Despite being over 60 years old, the story is still fresh and contemporary, and the calibre of this particular show is something Jerome Robbins would be proud of.

Run, don’t walk (or mambo, for that matter) to see this show.

GWB Entertainment, Opera Australia and BB Group present West Side Story
Melbourne: 6th – 28th April
Sydney: 16th August – 6th October
Canberra: 10th – 27th October
Adelaide: 28th November – 15th December
Tickets on sale now at www.westsidestory.com.au or www.opera.org.au

Gabi Bergman

Gabi Bergman is a Melbourne-based performer and educator, and is the current Deputy Editor-in-Chief of AussieTheatre.com. She holds a Double Arts degree in Theatre Studies and Film/Screen Studies and a Master of Teaching (Secondary Education). Gabi has always been an avid lover of theatre, specifically musicals, and spends way too much money than she’d like to admit on tickets. Her most prized possession is her crate of theatre programs.

Gabi Bergman

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