West Side Story review – hip-swinging, skirt-twirling love story gets gritty

Curve, Leicester
The classic musical gets a bold makeover in this stylish and intimate production directed by Nikolai Foster

It’s not every show that comes with an endorsement from the local chief constable. But taking pride of place in the programme for West Side Story is Leicestershire police’s Simon Cole, a signal of how seriously director Nikolai Foster takes the violence between the feuding Jets and Sharks. In a production as gritty and confrontational as it is musically accomplished, Foster goes further than most in eradicating the musical theatre wholesomeness of this classic show.

You see it in the urban decay of Michael Taylor’s set. With a tattered US flag overhead, he kettles the characters between mesh fences like basketball courts or prison exercise yards, too tempting for gang members to resist scaling. Fridges and televisions stick out of a heap of rubble, flickering remnants of the consumer dream, while the Jets’ jukebox hangout is all exposed concrete and rusting ladders. Guy Hoare’s lighting adds to the bleakness with a chilly depth of field.

Formidable ... West Side Story.
Formidable ... West Side Story. Photograph: Ellie Kurttz

You see it also in Ellen Kane’s exuberant choreography. As an excellent Carly Mercedes Dyer says in the role of Anita, they dance “like they have to get rid of something quick”. Hips swing hard and skirts twirl high. Moves are bold and aggressive. Yes, the violence is stylised but, amplified by Kevin McCurdy’s brutal fight direction, it convinces you something real is at stake.

Not that it’s all macho posturing. Musical supervisor Sarah Travis and musical director George Dyer are sensitive to the dynamics of the score, as confident stripping it as going full pelt. As Tony, Jamie Muscato has the confidence to sing Something’s Coming as a quiet and reflective soliloquy, his manner relaxed and seductive. His rendering of Maria is equally alive to light and shade.

Like Romeo and Juliet before it, West Side Story only works if you fall for the protagonists – and who wouldn’t be won over by this pair? Muscato and Adriana Ivelisse’s Maria are all adoring faces and love-struck giggles. Their harmonies on Tonight feel like an act of naked intimacy. At the heart of a large and formidable ensemble, they make their tragedy feel universal.


Mark Fisher

The GuardianTramp

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