‘West Side Story’ sim­ply pul­sates with high en­ergy

Cape Times - - LIFESTYLE - Orielle Berry

MOST peo­ple who grew up in the ’50s and the ’60s will be fa­mil­iar with the catchy songs of West Side Story – Maria; I Feel Pretty; Amer­ica; they were the songs I grew up with and their time­less qual­ity still evoke a strong sense of nos­tal­gia.

There have been dozens of ver­sions of this tragic-ro­mance or ro­man­tic tragedy since it was first per­formed in 1957, as a Broad­way mu­si­cal and then as a hit movie in 1961. Lo­cally, rave re­views have fol­lowed the show since Eric Abra­ham and the Fu­gard The­atre put in on the boards.

Now at the Artscape, the lat­est ver­sion is a tri­umph, a win­ner pul­sat­ing with high en­ergy.

And what’s not to love about a show that has an un­for­get­table score and fol­lows the age-old tale of Romeo and Juliet, cast as mod­ern-day lovers in a cel­e­bra­tion of song, dance, colour and su­perb act­ing that is en­gag­ing, com­pelling, laced with hu­mour and of­fers more than a sprin­kling of good old-fash­ioned moral mes­sages.

The show im­merses from the start, as stark sets of stair­wells lead­ing to and from mas­sive grey ten­e­ments in a quad­ran­gle morph into a hive of ac­tiv­ity.

The two gangs take to the streets and ten­sions be­tween the white Amer­i­can Jets and the Puerto Ri­can Sharks (the mod­ern-day Mon­tagues and Ca­pulets) erupt into a brawl.

Dance and move­ment are per­fectly syn­chro­nised, as the young men move like greased light­ning across the stage, demon­strat­ing their an­tipa­thy for the op­pos­ing side.

The an­tipa­thy height­ens as Maria, sis­ter of Sharks leader Bernardo and Tony, for­mer founder of the Jets, fall in love.

Lynelle Kenned shines as the sweet-faced Maria to Kevin Hack’s gen­tle, but strong Tony. The pair play against each other seam­lessly in the duets and the scenes that fol­low, as their love in­ten­si­fies, but is dogged by their im­pos­si­bly ir­rec­on­cil­able back­grounds.

Fleur du Cap win­ner and tal­ented so­prano Kenned shows off her mel­liflu­ous and hon­eyed voice, as the pair launch the ten­der duet Maria, with Hack demon­strat­ing his smooth tones as a highly-skilled singer.

It’s just the be­gin­ning and a har­bin­ger of the many ex­tra­or­di­nary mo­ments to come in this suc­cess­ful show.

Whether it’s the pow­er­ful ren­di­tions of the gang scenes; the heart-rend­ing mo­ments of the ill-fated love or the tragic scenes of the Jets show­ing they are the sor­row­ful prod­ucts of their en­vi­ron­ments – poverty, vi­o­lence, abuse, a lack of be­long­ing – the scenes are mag­nif­i­cently evoked and pow­er­fully chore­ographed.

Bianca Le Grange acts out a pow­er­ful, but en­dear­ing Anita, the girl­friend of Bernardo, who is wellplayed as the “don’t-mess-with-me” leader of the Sharks.

The set is mag­nif­i­cent, clev­erly avoid­ing any New York land­marks to give it a kind of uni­ver­sal set­ting, but dis­play­ing the gritty re­al­ity of the sur­round­ings with the som­bre grey­ness of the mul­ti­storey ten­e­ments.

It’s the hun­dreds of lights of a me­trop­o­lis that pro­vides the nec­es­sary foil to the monochro­matic back­ground, as do the colours of the amaz­ing cos­tumes and ma­te­ri­als that emerge from the dress­mak­ers shop.

Full marks to Louisa Tal­bot for the chore­og­ra­phy; Conor Mur­phy for the set de­sign (based on a con­cept by Jo­hann En­gels) Bir­rie le Roux who as­tounds with cos­tume de­sign and Matthew Wiid for the di­rec­tion.

Eric Abra­ham is pro­ducer and Daniel Galloway co-pro­ducer.

West Side Story may be a story that has tragic pro­por­tions, but it’s ul­ti­mately the kind of show that up­lifts and of­fers grand op­ti­mism. That age-old say­ing of “ris­ing against the odds” is demon­strated here in a mul­ti­tude of ways.

Gritty as it may be, its hu­mour and ebul­lience and the mes­sage it plays out in the fi­nale, show we can all rise above our cir­cum­stances to tri­umph in to­geth­er­ness.

West Side Story is at Artscape un­til April 15.

TRAGIC RO­MANCE: Lynelle Kenned as Maria and Kevin Hack as Tony in the mu­si­cal West Side Story. Pic­tures: DANIEL RUT­LAND MAN­NERS

GIRL TALK: Sarah-Ann van der Merwe, Chloe Per­ling, Bianca Le Grange, Le­sego van Niek­erk and Kirsty Ndawo in a scene.

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