Walking into the legendary Royal Exchange Theatre and seeing scaffolding on stage, the simmering anticipation for the opening of the production of the award-winning musical West Side Story is a feeling I won’t be able to forget for a long time.
Anna Fleishcle’s set design is awesome, giving the show a sense of no time period – is it set in the 50s or modern day? This accompanies Sarah Frankcom’s superb direction and Polly Sullivan’s simple yet stylish costume design. The scaffolding is used to superb effect to create height and intimacy between the cast and the audience.
Jason Carr’s jazzy new orchestration is remarkable, adding a lot more big band jazz elements to hit songs such as “When You’re A Jet” and “Dance at the Gym”.
With a cast of only 22 incredibly talented performers, the vocals were a treat to listen to. The intimate number of voices allowed you to hear Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim’s harmonies and lyrics in a whole new light, perfect for the intimate setting of the Royal Exchange.
Aletta Collins’ choreography blew my mind. Adding in a lot more contemporary and classic jazz moves, as well as some hip-hop elements added to the feeling of no time period. The mambo dance sequence was punchy, seeing both the Jets and the Sharks dancing both jazz and Latin inspired moves, proving that they are not too dissimilar than they think. The dream ballet was truly beautiful and breathtaking, using a lot of balancing moves that made the cast melt into one.
The Royal Exchange has created some brilliant pieces of theatre in the last two years, and always seem to find the perfect cast for the show. The connection between the delightfully youthful Gabriela Garcia (Maria) and the hopelessly romantic Andy Coxon (Tony) is wonderful to watch. Their chemistry on stage is heartwarming and their delivery of ‘One Hand, One Heart’ is tear-jerkingly beautiful.
Jocasta Almgill’s Anita is outstanding, strong and commands the stage. Michael Duke makes a great leader in Riff, and his athleticism as he runs around and climbs the set is mesmerising.
The whole cast deserves a round of applause, as this musical is so ensemble heavy, not one member of the ensemble let the show slip. A goose-bump moment was the “Tonight” quintet that just simply perfect.
Even with only a 11-strong orchestra, the musician’s delivers Leonard Bernstein’s with punch and drama.
The Royal Exchange have created something truly special here tonight, the standing ovation was more than deserved. If you have have to beg, steal or borrow to see this show, do. You won’t regret the three hours of pure bliss.
On at Manchester’s Royal Exchange Theatre until the 25th of May, tickets and information can be found on their website.