[Review] West Side Story

by John Lombard

Opera Australia and GWB Entertainment present the BB Group production

Canberra Theatre, 13 October (on until 27 October)

West Side Story retells Romeo and Juliet in 50s New York, with the star-crossed lovers on opposite sides of a teen gang war.


Straightforward and told with economy, West Side Story boils down Romeo and Juliet to its essence, adding pathos by recasting Shakespeare’s powerful nobles in the humblest of settings.


Rather than powerful families tussling for command of a city, teens scrap over a city block, and instead of a secret wedding, the two lovers dream for a night in a bridal shop.


Director Jerome Robbins reproduces the balletic original choreography of Joey McKneely, with the transcendent lyricism of the bounding dancers contrasting with the grime of slum life.


Leonard Bernstein’s music for the show is iconic, with a brash, versatile and distinctively American sound of violence and beauty. Songs such as Maria and Somewhere capture the wonder and longing of lovers while bouncing numbers such as America display the mordant wit of lyricist Stephen Sondheim.


Todd Jacobson is clean-cut and noble as Tony, with a mooncalf stare of adoration for Maria. Sophie Salvesani is sweet and optimistic as Maria, an angel striding untouchable through purgatory.


The two gang leaders, Noah Mullins as Riff and Keanu Gonzalez as Bernardo, give charismatic performances as chivalrous leaders that inspire devotion.


But the standout performance is Chloe Zuel as Bernardo’s firecracker lover Anita, with her vibrant but sensitive performance commanding attention.


West Side Story is a captivating spectacle of dance and tragedy, as polished and potent as the flash of a switchblade.


Tickets and details at canberratheatrecentre.com.au

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