Director Barrie Koski came highly recommended and lived up to my expectations – he even surpassed them. West Side Story – the musical on the verge of being the first American opera – tells the Shakespearean Romeo and Juliet-story, replacing the feuding families with families of another kind – the gangs of the Jets and the Sharks. With its beautiful melodies (more than one a testimony to Leonard Bernstein’s Jewish ancestry) it could be a traditional matron gathering dust in a sacred part of every musical theatre’s fund. That this staging avoided that old “pong” is down to Koski’s genial approach. Also: While the spoken text is in German, the songs’ lyrics are in English – and that is a great relief, because their words were written for this music and any dubbing diminishes their beauty.
An empty stage framed by dark walls is all the stage setting that’s necessary to transport us into Berlin, 2015… where minorities do still fight for survival. Costume design turned the Sharks into Rappers and the Jets into their tattooed barechested enemies. The choreography starts with one Jet playing basketball – in perfect rhythm to the music. And it takes up pace and acrobatics that take your breath away. A huge thank you to the dance captain (Silvano Marraffa) Snowball – he did a brilliant job. Poor Tony (Tansel Akzeybek) – with the least “interesting” part of the musical he had a hard time finding his footing. He was good, mind you, but not exceptional; which mattered in a production as high octane as this one. Maria (Jasmina Sakr) was very sweet with a strong voice and enough naivite to make the starry eyed lover believable. Fabulous Anita (Sigalit Feig) who of course has the best songs and knows how to shake it ( 😉 ).
With the brutal rape scene in act 3 the production set a mark that had the mother in front of me gasp and distract her maybe 6 year old daughter. But it was a necessary scene, making the betrayal that follows understandable.
Also a brilliant idea: The duet There’s a Place for Us, A Time and Place for Us… sung by the ensemble – Jets and Sharks together with officer Krupke, the detective, the store owner, very hushed, very yearning, while Tony is bleeding out on the street, victim to another gang fight. An incredibly intense and gripping moment.
All in all – a brilliant production with a great cast, minimalistic design and therefore showcasing the talent of the dancers and singers.