Photos: Ellie Kurttz
West Side Story, with music by the legendary Leonard Bernstein and words by an-up-and-coming youngster, Stephen Sondheim, is recognised as a modern masterpiece. A revolutionary piece of theatre when it was first produced in 1957 - its style of song, dance and story-telling had not been seen before, dealing with contemporary issues like gang warfare, tension between migrant groups and what we would now see as racism.
Those themes are as relevant today as they were then and a temptation to any director might be to present this simply as a classic, a comfortable friend that everyone knows.
But Nikolai Foster, choreographer Ellen Kane, set designer Michael Taylor and the rest of the team at Leicester Curve have done an excellent job in refreshing the piece...cliche alert...presenting us with A West Side Story which is very much for our times.
Starting with a stage full of actors, backs to the audience, sutcases by their sides and (immigration) papers in their hands we are immediately reminded of the focus of the play; friction between young Peurto Ricans (Sharks) and young Americans (the Jets, ironically/tragically the sons of migrants themselves), a huge tattered Stars and Stripes in the backgound and from start to end the chain link fencing, used in various formations to remind the audience of borders and divisions. The dump of rubble at one corner of the stage reminds us that the area our drama is set in is not one that the city authorities have much time for. Extraordinarily long lines of washing slung across the stage tell us that we are in a neighbourhood where many people are getting on with everyday life.
The set also features an extraordinary three storey, two rooms 'deep' tenement block with multiple uses - Docs drug store, Maria's bedroom etc. Moving in and out of the centre of the Curve's spacious stage it gives opportunities to put the action into various realistic locations smoothly and quickly.
If the set is fine enough to be on a West End stage it is easily matched by the quality of all the performances on offer from a talented cast.
The key roles of Tony and Maria are played beautifully by Jamie Muscato and Adriana Ivelisse - the whole scene of 'One Hand, One Heart' a masterclass in acting, movement and song. In another of many highlights Carly Mercedes Dyer, Mireia Mambo and Abigail Climer (Anita, Rosalia and Consuella) demonstrate wonderfully that 'America' doesn't have to be a huge chorus number to have its impact.
Also outstanding is the idea of presenting 'Gee Officer Krupke' as a piece of vaudeville, in front of the curtain, brilliantly executed by Isaac Grynn, Michael O'Reilly, Dale White and Ryan Anderson (Action, Diesel, Big Deal, Baby John and A-Rab).
But this is really an ensemble piece - the whole cast deserve huge praise.
Musically the show is accompanied by a magnificent 16-piece band.
The involvement of members of the Curve's Young Company - both singing and acting in crowd scenes - is also to be praised. Their presence enhances the show, with some of the 'alternates' being engaged to provide high quality pre-show entertainment in the theatre foyer.
This West Side Story certainly deserves to be seen in the West End but if you can, give yourself a present and visit The Curve this Christmas.