Opera Australia
Adelaide Festival Theatre
Until 08 Dec 2019

Review by Chris Eaton

Opera Australia & GWB Entertainment
Festival Theatre
Until 8th December 2019

Review by Chris Eaton

Adelaide audiences have been blessed by the return of the classic musical “West Side Story” after an eight year hiatus. The story - conceived by original director and choreographer Jerome Robbins and loosely based on “Romeo and Juliet” – includes sexual assault, premarital sex and the deaths of major characters. This was shocking when it premiered in 1956, but to a modern audience, these scenes do not land with the same impact. However, this is the only element (and a minor element) of West Side Story that exposes its age.

Robbins’ original choreography, imbued by Director and Choreographer Joey McKneely, still excites in its expressiveness and dynamism and appeared flawlessly executed by the company of young dancers. The book by Arthur Laurents is poetic and delicate, providing a light brush compared to the bombast of the choreography – and of course the music. The music by Leonard Bernstein (and lyrics by a fledgling lyricist Stephen Sondheim) is incendiary and peerless in the canon of musical theatre. Such is the strength of these elements that they make up for some deficiencies that are found in the cast, much of which can be attributed to experience.

Tony played by Todd Jacobsson, sounds the part perfectly with a strident lyric tenor and has significant visual appeal. Unfortunately, Jacobsson’s portrayal lacks connection with the whimsical dreamer that defines the character and thus he struggles to appear genuine. Sophie Salvesani as Maria also sounds sublime in the soprano role but lacks the necessary experience (this is her professional debut) to deliver the same heights dramatically. In general, the relationship between Tony and Maria lacks the chemistry that it should have.

Chloe Zuel plays the triple threat role of Anita very well, displaying the necessary dramatic range, dance and singing skills – though her diction was at times a struggle, which was shared by quite a few other performers. It should be pointed out that the singers seemed to lack sufficient amplification during the show, though this was potentially less irksome to this critic given his familiarity with the source. Supporting performer Keanu Gonzalez was impressive as Bernardo, as was Nicholas Collins as A-Rab, Joshua Taylor as Action and Molly Bugeja as Anybodys. In the case of those last three performers, “West Side Story” marks their professional musical theatre debut.

In general, much of the cast are making their debut with this production (which has toured from the eastern seaboard). The lack of experience (as well as their median age) shows in some of the emotional scenes which don’t quite hit all the marks. The cast should be commended on their energy and effort, though, with each member giving their all on stage.

The orchestra under Donald Chan are a sensation, rising to the challenge of Bernstein’s sumptuous score. It was difficult to determine whether the sound issues were also shared in the performers foldback too as some were perilously close to being out of time with the music in places, Jacobsson noticeably looking to Chan for cues multiple times, which is rarely seen on the professional stage.

In summation, though, this production is not greater than the sum of its parts, enough parts are superlative to make it worth your money – so what are you waiting for, buddy boy?