Review: West Side Story

Elsa Maishman 11 March 2016

On paper, this production of West Side Story ticks all the boxes for a good performance, but in reality it lacks the power and energy that this musical deserves.

It is clear that this has been one of the most anticipated ADC productions this term, with a packed audience and the vast majority of tickets sold out before the first night. However, while strong and skilful in many ways, the production feels like a bit of a missed opportunity.

West Side Story is arguably one of the best known musicals of the last century, its story is timelessly powerful and Sondheim’s lyrics iconic. Arthur Laurent’s plot is based on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, and follows the catastrophic love story of Tony (Joe Beighton) and Maria (Laura Makhoul), star-crossed lovers from two warring gangs in 1950s New York.

The first thing to say in favour of this performance is the incredible vocals, particularly from the two leads Beighton and Makhoul, whose rendition of “Tonight” is astounding. There should also be a special mention for Megan Gilbert’s brilliant performance as Anita, flawless in acting, singing and dancing in this incredibly challenging part. In fact, Makhoul and Gilbert largely carry this performance. However, while the vocals are good, it feels sometimes as if the acting is an unfortunate interlude between songs, and doesn’t quite carry the drama that the vocal performances do.

The gangsters, who are meant to be hardened New York teen delinquents, look as if they would be more comfortable in a history lecture than on the street. The fight scenes in particular are sadly unbelievable, and feel more like an awkward scuffle between public school boys than a “rumble”.

The accents are also deeply questionable, Colin Rothwell as Krupke and Doc gives an otherwise good performance but seems to give up on the accent altogether in parts and just settles back into vaguely posh English.

The biggest let-down of this production is the dancing. While it should be recognised that this is the most challenging part, particularly for a student performance and on the small ADC stage, what should be powerful and dramatic choreography is often lack-lustre and messy.

However, there are also plenty of things to praise about this production besides the vocals. The most high energy and entertaining scene is the rendition of ‘Officer Krupke’, which lifts the whole performance.

It should also be noted that this production is very clever in many ways, the set, from James Ireland, is versatile and ingenious, and Ellie Beveridge's costumes simple but effective.

It is hard to not enjoy this performance, with the wonderful script and score, but it must be said that compared to other productions of West Side Story it simply lacks the drama and charisma that it could have. Overall, while promising, this performance falls a bit flat.