By Millie Muroi
It’s the trope you’ve seen in every great love story – but one that never gets old.
Romeo and Juliet – resuscitated and reanimated as Tony (Nigel Huckle) and Maria (Sophie Salvesani) in a musical deemed one of the ten best of all time by Rollingstone.
Joey McKneely’s production is the spectacular revival of a play first performed in 1957.
Pelican was fortunate to score tickets to this musical, West Side Story, that sold out theatres across London, Paris, and Tokyo.
Transport yourself back to the 1950s, to the streets of New York, where rusty rungs run up the sides of rickety apartments.
Two juvenile gangs run the dingy alleyways on the West Side: the ‘Jets’ and the ‘Sharks’ – both in a constant cat-and-mouse with the law and with each other.
Enter Tony – a young veteran of the Jets – who is re-recruited into the rivalry housing both his passion and a prospect of tragedy.
And Maria – a vivacious member of the Puerto Rican Sharks and crucially, sister to the gang’s leader, Bernado (Temujin Tera).
The giddy whirlwind romance between them is expedited by youthful naivety and hope – and perhaps the time constraints of a staged production.
But this is where the production is at its best.
Nigel Huckle’s rendition of “Maria” is sombre, sincere, and enchanting – a high point in Huckle’s vocal performance.
Sophie Salvesani nails several scores, harmonising beautifully with Huckle to convey the momentous infatuation between the lovers.
Having made her professional debut in 2019 as Maria in West Side Story, Salvesani fits back into the role comfortably; her embodiment of Maria is spot-on.
Angelina Thomson playing Anita is also a stand-out, particularly in the energy and conviction she brings to the role.
Choreography and execution of dance numbers by the entire cast are a pleasure to watch and a great show of athleticism and grace – complemented by the orchestra who punctuate moments of drama and comedy.
The manipulation of lighting to create silhouettes, and contrast vibrant sunset gradients with monochrome urban images is startling and effective; and the set design, framed by two pivoting towers of fire escapes, is simple but surprisingly versatile and apt in conveying a 1950s inner-city atmosphere.
In the narrative – and stylistically – grungy realism collides with romance and the avant-garde.
While Act II crescendos quite rapidly and could be drawn out if time constraints allowed, the production overall is impressive with powerfully poignant moments.
Moreover, the themes explored within West Side Story: racial prejudice, immigration, violence, class, and of course – love – still resonate, perhaps more so, half a century after the first production.
If you love a bit of romance, action, and drama – vamos!
Catch West Side Story while it’s on the west side of Australia – and take the opportunity to travel through both space and time!
4.5 Pelicans out of 5
West Side Story is playing at Crown Theatre until the 17th of July.