Let me start by saying that I’m quite a picky person when it comes to musicals. I go to every single show of this sort that’s happening in Cape Town (which isn’t that difficult, unfortunately) and I’m quite spoilt by the musical theaters in Europe. In short, it’s difficult to impress me and “West Side Story” is a good but not a panty dropping show.
“West Side Story” can be referred to as a variation on a Romeo and Juliet theme. They meet, they fall madly in love but their close ones are against their being together (plus a crime bonus). The story takes place in the United States and the main characters are, of course, the lovers. The relationship of Maria (Lynelle Kenned), a Puerto Rican immigrant and Tony (Jonathan Roxmouth), a gringo is a big no no for their communities. The intercultural twist adds to the story and makes it easier to relate to than that of the Shakespearean lovers but unfortunately it doesn’t change the fact that the audience knows what’s going to happen which makes the story line awfully predictable and at times tedious (the show is nearly three hours long).
On the positive side, the actors have beautiful voices. The singing is absolutely amazing and I felt teary at times (Mariaaaaa!). I remember seeing the main actress in “Orpheus in Africa” and I was truly impressed by her performance. She didn’t disappoint me this time and her duos with her stage lover sounded (and looked) very convincing. The acting skills are of secondary interest in musicals that are ruled by different principles than other shows. However, it’s worth noticing that the actors are convincing. It is partially to be attributed to the American and Puerto Rican accents which are mimicked in a very genuine way that makes us forget that the actors are South African. The experience seems more real due to the stylized costumes and scenography There are not too many stage settings, but the way in which the transitions between them happen is very impressive and makes us think that the price of our tickets (R95 to 400) is justified.
The weakest link in this show is unfortunately the dancing. Possibly, the Fugard’s Theatre team, which is usually brilliant, is used to a smaller stage and couldn’t cope equally well with a big one. The group dances were visibly lacking synchronization which I find quite annoying to watch. There were some stunning dancing sections but it seems that they were such mostly as the result of numbers of dancers and their costumes and not their cooperation.
For all the reason mentioned above, “West Side Story” is a show worth watching but it’s not a new “Rocky Horror Show”.