The Production Company has pulled out all the stops for their 50th production. This production offers a fresh and vibrant new staging of a timeless classic.
Artistically, this production is a triumph. Gale Edwards is no doubt one of the best things to have happened to the Production Company. At the helm of this production, Edwards has directed a stripped back, slick production that is full of heart. She retains an industrial street scape in her minimal set and uses the lighting and costuming to help move the narrative; really focusing in on the actors and the story.
Guy Simpson as musical director leads a delightful Orchestra Victoria. The accomplished Orchestra are tight, well paced and allow the piece to flow seamlessly. The score is beautifully sung by the 34 member cast. The Sound Design beautifully highlighted Simpson’s work, and my only criticism of the whole production is that there were times when the ensemble could have been turned up a little so as to hear them more clearly.
Choreographer Michael Ralph is to be truly celebrated. The choreography is one of the most impressive features of this production. The high-energy numbers will leave you awestruck. If the ‘Prologue’ doesn’t set a great enough tone for the production, only a short time later, ‘The Dance at the Gym’ floods the stage with vigour and provides an incredible ‘Mambo’. Ralph cleverly keeps the Jets and Sharks differentiated through movement, posture and dance style. The Jets draw on jazz dance styles and generally have a more casual and slouched presence while the Sharks employ heavily Latino influenced movement and straighter posture throughout the piece.
Adam Fiorentino and The Sharks
The costume design by Tim Chappel is well researched, period specific and reflects the traditional costuming of the show whilst finding moments to invigorate the scenes with interesting colour palettes. The Sharks generally dress in a reds and black with highlights of blues, while the Jets wear mostly blues and white with highlights of red. These help easily identify each gang. Particularly impressive were the brightly stylised Shark jackets that the men wore in “Dance at the Gym”, along with their equally brightly coloured female partners. Maria looked gorgeous in both iconic white and red dresses.
Sean Mulligan and The Jets
Set Designer Shaun Gurton does a great job of keeping the industrial street scape simple and clean while creating a field of depth, and cleverly depicts different locations with the use of simple additions that fly in and out of various scenes. Trudy Dalgleish masterfully highlights the action with her lighting design. She creates atmospheric open scenes, intimately delivered soliloquies and night time action sequences within the one set staging.
Anna O’Byrne is a sweet and endearing Maria. She has the innocence of a young girl blindly following her heart. Her thick Puerto Rican accent is consistent and never wavers; she sings like an angel. Gareth Keegan makes for a warm and boyish Tony. His voice is audibly bigger than this score calls for and he delivers each number with ease and control.
Anne O’Byrne and Gareth Keegan
Anita is played by not one, but three actresses. Before the show began on opening night, The Production Company’s Artistic Director, Ken McKenzie-Forbes, delivered an announcement that we are all “mere mortals” and that Deone Zanotto who was cast to play Anita had unfortunately fallen victim to laryngitis. Due to the lack of time to rehearse an understudy, Zanotto went on to physically play the role – and she delivered the sexually charged choreography and physicality without a hint of any illness – with Assistant Director Natalie Gilhome voicing Anita’s lines and Amanda Harrison (who had not previously learnt the role) singing the role off-stage. The trio pulled off the role without a hitch and from where I was sitting towards the back half of the stalls, you could hardly tell it wasn’t all being performed by the actress on stage. Harrison injected the right amount of attack and emotion as Anita, singing the role beautifully.
Deone Zanotto as Anita
Adam Fiorentino brought a head-strong and sexually charged presence to Sharks leader, Bernardo, while Sean Mulligan played a clean-cut Jets leader, Riff. Rob Tripolino was a naive Chino. All three were appropriately cast, looked great and delivered their roles with conviction.
Bianca Baykara is a treat as Rosalia. She has a lot of energy and a strong voice. She draws your attention in “America”, but more impressively delivers a haunting and hallowed “Somewhere”. Glaston Toft made the most of his very cameo role, Glad Hand providing a few laughs for the audience.
This ensemble is one of the strongest I’ve seen on any stage. I’ve previously mentioned the incredible execution of the choreography, but despite fantastic leading actors, this production excels because of this wonderful collection of triple threats. While I’ve previously mentioned the impressive showstopper, ‘Mambo’, ‘Gee Officer Krupke’ and ‘America’ provide lighter and fun moments between dramatic scenes.
Perhaps the biggest surprise audiences can look forward to is a re-imagined ‘Somewhere Ballet’, where a truly heavenly dream sequence takes place, in no small part due to an effervescent colour pallete through the costumes and lighting.
West Side Story sets a new benchmark of quality entertainment in The Production Company’s successful history. I’m sure we can all look forward to many continued successes to follow through the remainder of their star-studded 2015 season.
West Side Story has eight remaining performances through to the 19th of July.