West Side Story

There are some breathtaking moments in the choreographed fight scenes but vocal performances are nowhere near as strong

West Side Story
Bord Gáis Energy Theatre

West Side Story was one of the first musicals to incorporate dance as an essential part of the storytelling process.

Jerry Robbins's original choreography extended to the characters' natural movements as well as formal set-pieces, including an ethereal dream ballet that underscores the theme of racial prejudice. The
choreography brings brutality to traditional ballet and requires highly skilled dancers, who must also be able to sing and act. It is for this reason that West Side Story is rarely produced, as a marriage of those talents can be difficult to find.

The cast of this revival by Joey McKneely succeed in reproducing Robbins's movement with precision, and in the choreographed fight scenes there are some breathtaking moments of movement and dance. However, vocal performances are nowhere near as strong, and the playful ensemble numbers that structure Leonard Bernstein's memorably melodramatic score – Gee, Officer Krupke and America, in particular – are fatally underpowered.


It is with some relief, then, that the lead performances by Katie Hall as Maria and Louis Maskell as Tony are so good. Maskell is especially outstanding, with a deep, honeyed alto that brings emotional conviction to songs as diverse in tempo and timbre as Maria and Something's Coming. Hall's high soprano is stunning too, but her accented delivery takes away from the emotional authenticity of her performance, and this is especially marked in the duets, Tonight and One Hand/One Heart, where Maskell commands our attention. It is easy to distinguish his voice too in the competing melodies of Procession/Nightmare. In the face of such talent, perhaps it is inevitable that other vocal performances seem lacklustre by comparison.

The 18-piece orchestra delivers Bernstein's complex score with stirring conviction. Bernstein resists easy harmonies and tempos, stripping back our expectations of the structure of beats and bars to deliver discordant surprises that match the violence of the action. The verve of their rendition only seeks to confirm the pallor of this production. If West Side Story reminds us that the story of musical theatre is one of collaboration, this production highlights how disappointing it can be when all the elements fail to work together. Until Saturday

Sara Keating

Sara Keating

Sara Keating, a contributor to The Irish Times, is an arts and features writer