West Side Story @ Sadler’s Wells

I was lucky enough to be invited by my friend to see the Sadler’s Wells production of West Side Story. I am a huge fan of the film version, but have never seen a stage performance, so was really excited to see one of my favourite musicals live on stage.

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I have to say, unfortunately, I was not blown away. Many of the singers were very good, especially Tony and Anita, and the choreography, following the original by Jerome Robbins, was superb. However much of the actual dancing was pretty lacklustre, and the actor playing Riff wasn’t obviously the strongest singer or dancers in the Jets group. Indeed one of the most enjoyable songs was “Gee, Officer Krupke”, in which Riff doesn’t feature. However, the performances were generally strong, and really picked up in the second act. The ending in particular brought me to tears – Maria was exceptionally powerful in the final scenes.

I think my main problem with the stage version of West Side Story is that I just prefer it in film. While the choreography is fantastic, much of the ‘fighting’ requires way too much set up for my liking, and this makes a lot of the main scenes lose pace. It is very obvious where the film has changed scenes around or cut them out altogether, and I think in some places this was for the better. There was a rather strange dream sequence where Tony and Maria envisage a world where everyone gets along. While this is a good message it didn’t seem to fit into the flow of the musical in general. However it did showcase the style of dance that seemed to come most naturally to the cast, which was nice to see.

This review may seem quite negative, but I have to say I did enjoy West Side Story, and I am very glad I have experienced the original stage version. I suspect the problem was just that it did not quite live up to my expectations, and I think that is quite a typical problem with ‘summer stock’ performances.

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