Review: West Side Story

Terry Wills witnesses a new production of an all-time classic.


1958, Her Majesty’s Theatre London. The inaugural UK showing of a new musical, West Side Story , that from its opening night thrilled audience following its transfer from Washington.

Fifty six years on it’s back at the New Alexandra Theatre with the current touring production replicating the success that has seen it win the title ‘Number One Musical of all Time.” Hardly surprising considering that when transferred to film it won ten Oscars and broke all box office records.

Record-breaking ticket sales are synonymous with this tale wherever it’s performed; 2008 saw a 50th Anniversary World Tour and in 2014 it’s back after a record-breaking UK Tour.

All musical theatre devotees know a tremendous night’s entertainment is assured but for anyone, (Can there be anyone?) unaware of this modern day Romeo and Juliet  this is the perfect opportunity to join its ever-growing throng of admirers.

It’s a simple but tragic story, set in a seedy district of New York. Two teenage gangs, the Jets and the Sharks are deadly rivals. The Jets resent the presence of Puerto Rican immigrants on their turf, making it clear that they are the top dogs. For their part the Sharks refuse to be intimidated, setting the scene for the rumble that will determine which gang rules the streets.

Problems arise at a dance to determine where the rumble is to take place when Jets Tony meets and falls in love with Maria, setting the scene for a confrontation that can only end in disaster.

From the opening scene the audience are transfixed by the frenetic, energetic dancing from the 33 strength cast, aided by the seemingly non-stop range of assembly lined production songs. Something’s Coming, Maria, Tonight, America, I Feel Pretty, Somewhere – Leonard Bernstein’s wonderful musical score , aided by Stephen Spondee’s captivating lyrics, make it a great night’s entertainment.

All credit to the cast. Leading roles played by Louis Maskell, Javier Cid, Djalenga Scott, Jack Wilcox plus the role of Maria played at this performance by understudy Charlotte Baptie left the audience enraptured at the overall quality.

For me, having seen West Side Story many times, including the inaugural production back in 1958, I firmly believe this current Alex production stands the test of time, equally captivating and deserving its growing reputation.

For those who haven’t yet had the privilege of seeing this all-time favourite musical, get along to the New Alexandra Theatre to see it for yourself. With a three week run ending on April 19th there’s ample opportunity –miss it at your peril!

West Side Story is at the New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham, until 19th April.