I tend to watch any production of West Side Story through rose-coloured glasses – it was the first musical experience I had with my dad, the 1994 Australian tour with musical theatre heavy weights Caroline O’Connor, Marina Prior and Todd McKenney. It remains my favourite musical of all time.
There are moments when watching this production, that one forgets that the performers are indeed between the ages of 14 and 20, and they have not yet embarked on a professional career – that this is still them in ‘training’. And what a training ground Adelaide Youth Theatre is!
To think that professionals have between 3 – 6 weeks of full day rehearsals, and these ‘kids’ brought this production to life in just two short weeks, is unfathomable.
West Side Story is a musical conceived by Jerome Robbins with music by Leonard Bernstein, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and book by Arthur Laurents.
Inspired by William Shakespeare’s play Romeo and Juliet, the story is set in the mid-1950s in the Upper West Side of Manhattan in New York City, then a multiracial, blue-collar neighbourhood. The musical explores the rivalry between the Jets and the Sharks, two teenage street gangs of different ethnic backgrounds. The Sharks, who are recent migrants from Puerto Rico, and the Jets, who are the bitter remnant of an immigrant cohort that has moved on, vie for dominance of the neighbourhood, and the police try to keep order. The young protagonist, Tony, a former member of the Jets and best friend of the gang’s leader, Riff, falls in love with Maria, the sister of Bernardo, the leader of the Sharks.
The dark theme, sophisticated music, extended dance scenes, tragic love story, and focus on social problems marked a turning point in musical theatre at the time, and to this very day.
The set by Serena Cann was brilliant, with Projection Design by Ray Cullen expertly moving between the flats from the brownstones of Manhattan, Doc’s Store, the silos of the highway and the celebrated balcony scene.
The legendary prologue showed us to what to expect of this show, and this cast and production team did not disappoint!
Sensational vision and direction by Nic Collins, who himself played A-Rab in the professional tour of West Side Story in 2019 and 2021 brought out the best in the performers; exceptional stage direction and being able to share first-hand what he learned to these young triple threats. What a treat for them!
With Adelaide’s most sought after choreographer, dance whiz Shenayde Wilkinson-Sarti re-creating the iconic Robbins moves; classic lines, layers, expressions, and dimension with expertly choreographed and executed ballet and fight scenes by Assistant Choreographer Joe Meldrum [another professional West Side Story alumni]
Musical direction by the superb Mark Stefanoff heard these young voices rise through the difficult score with ease.
The costumes were expertly tonal – reds, purples and blacks for the Sharks, with pastel and denim for the Jets.
Lighting design by Rodney Bates, was magnificent from start to finish.
We meet the Jets and Sharks; each punctuating their characters perfectly, from movements to pronunciations. This really is a dancer’s musical, and each of them brought formidable skill and technique to the table.
All the featured Jets were thrilling, especially in their signature songs ‘Cool’ and ‘Officer Krupke’ – they all displayed an incredible bond, comraderie and danced their butts off!
Lead Jet, Riff, played by Mason Pugh, was fittingly antsy and realistic with strong vocals and acting chops to match. Sam Wormald, who portrayed his gal Graziella was the strongest dancer and they made a fantastic duo.
Asher Gordan as Bernardo had the swagger, attitude and drawl along with his posse of Sharks; all downcast and downtrodden in the big smoke.
The Shark and Jet girls completed the picture, especially in scenes such Dance at The Gym – the tension was palpable and real and the choreography dazzling!
Maddok MacKenzie, Samuel Cannizzaro and Jaxon Joy portrayed the adults Officer Krupke, Schrank and Doc with stern authority.
But it was the three leads that absolutely blew me away.
Taylor Tran played the sassy and sarcastic Anita, long suffering girl friend of Bernardo. Her journey from sympathetic and protective to hateful and angry, which in turn sets the final act of the tragedy in motion, was compelling and believable. The taunting scene at Doc’s with the Jets was powerful and heavy and the young cast should be commended in pulling that off with such enormity.
Her rendition of ‘America’ with the Shark girls was exceptional!
Playing the star-crossed lovers, Tony and Maria, were Daniel Barnett and Leticia Lee.
What a find these two were!
Barnett played the optimistic and idealistic Tony with real heart and purity. His tone and vibrato on show in ‘Something’s Coming’ and ‘Maria’.
Lee as Maria was pitch perfect as the eager, innocent and naïve young Puerto Rican who falls in love with the wrong boy. Her posturing, accent and characterisation were all on point and her spectacular soprano trill was a sound to behold.
Their chemistry and connection were authentic and genuine with extraordinary harmonies in ‘One Hand, One Heart’
An incredible show to rival the professional ones, well done to the entire cast and crew for invoking so many memories and creating new ones. This is your best yet!