WEST SIDE STORY at the King’s Theatre, Glasgow, for The Scotsman, 16.1.14
4 stars ****
IN THE HISTORY of the big stage musical, there are just a handful of shows so powerful, so musically brilliant, and so dramatically compelling that they transcend space and time, and stand as great pieces of popular theatre for audiences everywhere.
First seen in New York in 1957, Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story is one of those shows, an inspired update of the story of Romeo And Juliet set among the street-fighting white and Puerto Rican gangs of New York’s Lower West Side. And although the UK touring production that plays at the King’s in Glasgow until the end of next week is not the most spectacular production you are ever likely to see – it’s more heartfelt than explosive, and more carefully-crafted than loud or glitzy – its quiet passion for the telling of a timeless story, and the absolute commitment of a gifted young cast, make it an evening to remember.
At one level, there is perhaps a special intensity about watching this show in Glasgow, a city where knife-crime – often involving gangs – has been a long-running tragedy; and the theme of conflict between local people and new immigrants currently dominates UK politics. In truth, though, West Side Story is a show so well made – its great songs so beautiful, even its slightly old-fashioned ballet sequences heartbreakingly powerful – that it draws an intense human response wherever it goes. In director Joey McKneely’s traditional production, closely modelled on the Jerome Robbins original, the 18-piece orchestra does superb justice to Bernstein’s score, the dancing ranges from the decent to the brilliant, and Katie Hall and Louis Maskell make a sweet and passionate Maria and Tony; alongside a 30-strong cast whose efforts win cheers of approval from the audience, once the tragedy is played out, and the curtain finally falls.