For Perth audiences starved of world class international entertainment going on 18 months, West Side Story was a truly opulent production. With incredible choreography and elements of opera, it raised the bar for a standard musical production, to be nothing short of a multi-arts spectacular. It truly was a feast for the senses.
The story’s timeless take on Romeo and Juliet, given a modern twist thanks to themes of immigration and multiculturalism, packs just as topical a punch as when West Side Story first appeared on Broadway in 1957. It still shocks too, not shying away from racism and sexual violence that will anger, as much as the ultimate romantic tragedy leaves a lump in the throat.
Adding to the sense of theatre was a stunning, rotating set. No expense was spared as a backdrop of New York apartment fire escapes gave the performers scale to climb the scaffolding and let loose their stunning voices. Never was this more apparent than when the iconic Romeo and Juliet balcony scene was transferred onto a grungy Upper West Side backstreet. An industrial tour de force, it set the scene for the operatic duet Tonight, in one of the night’s many highlights – special mention must go to the live orchestra bringing the room to life and livening the atmosphere throughout.
It was followed by arguably the night’s most memorable moment, America, the famous musical’s catchiest number and still its most recognisable. The pro-American anthem, ironically set to a Latino-themed score, was as amazing as the thrilled audience could’ve hoped for, lifted again by the energetic dance routines. West Side Story has been famous for its focus on choreography since the show’s inception, and was a game changer for that reason in its earliest days. But even considering the expectation that brings, these routines, from the opening Prologue to set one finale The Rumble, were a sensory explosion.
To have Australian performers with the ability to sing and dance so well in tandem was a credit to not only the cast, but the casting. They may not have been household names (although many hold international CVs), but the West Side Story experience was nothing less than a feast of colour and choreography throughout its considerable near three-hour run time, thanks to a team at the top of its game.
Nearly compromised by the most recent lockdown (the previous Friday’s opening night had to be put on hold), don’t miss your chance to be treated to an unforgettable night at the theatre and pretend COVID-19 never happened at Crown. It’s been a wonderful time to immerse ourselves in the local arts and music scenes in the interim, but West Side Story is a welcome return to the bells and whistles of full blown, no-stone-left-unturned entertainment, whilst still celebrating the finest in Australian talent.