West Side Story
- Yasmin Sulaiman
- 30 October 2008
From Charles-Francois Gounod’s 19th century opera to Baz Lurhmann’s gun-toting 1996 film, there’s been no shortage of momentous adaptations of Shakespeare’s love epic. But of all the play’s modern reworkings, West Side Story continues to be one of the most memorable. Writer Arthur Laurents transformed Fair Verona into the poverty-stricken backstreets of Manhattan’s West Side in the mid-1950s, where the Jets, a ragtag bunch of white Americans forgotten by society, fight against the Sharks, Puerto Rican immigrants struggling to make a living in the New World. And the star-cross’d lovers? Enter Tony and Maria, one of musical theatre’s best-loved couples, played in the 1961 film by Richard Beymer and Natalie Wood.
Punctuated by Jerome Robbins’ mesmerising choreography, and Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim’s unforgettable music, West Side Story’s blistering depiction of American racism and fierce gang rivalry shook the foundations of Broadway in 1957 and London’s West End in 1958. Fifty years on, Joey McKneeley’s new production is enjoying a critically acclaimed, near-sold out anniversary tour of the UK. Daniel Koek, currently playing the ill-fated Tony, is enthusiastic about the enduring power of the musical: ‘It’s a timeless love story – everyone can relate to that,’ he says. ‘But it’s also a tragedy, and lots of people find that mysterious and morbidly fascinating. Together with Bernstein and Sondheim’s music, those elements make the musical stunning.’
Koek, a classically trained performer who has even released his own album to coincide with the tour, has been praised for his renditions of classic West Side Story numbers, including ‘Maria’, ‘Somewhere’ and ‘Tonight’, his personal favourite. But is he confident that the musical will continue to shine in the 21st century? ‘Just look at the West End today – things come and go in the space of months, that’s a very indicative factor of what makes a good musical. West Side Story has stood the test of time: everything about it – be it music or choreography – has flourished in this particular production. But maybe in another 50 years time, we should ask ourselves the question again.’
Theatre Royal, Glasgow, Tue 11–Sat 29 November