WAAPA talent shines in West Side
West Side Story. Picture by Jon Green

MUSICAL

West Side Story


WAAPA 2nd & 3rd Year Music Theatre students

3.5 stars

Regal Theatre

Review: David Zampatti

In the wake of superb recent productions of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying and Crazy for You, WAAPA has really chanced its arm for its annual music theatre extravaganza by restaging the dark and mighty West Side Story.

It's a phenomenal challenge for a student cast, no matter how talented, and no doubt WAAPA's program director, Andrew Lewis, and head of music theatre, David King (who also conducts the production's impressive orchestra), knew it would be beyond them at times.

So it proved. But the ability being tested here needs only the experience and hunger that come from years out in the business to master the technique, and harness the passion, that West Side Story demands.

Jerome Robbins’s concept of Romeo and Juliet, transposed to the mean streets of New York, was given a tough, unflinching book by Arthur Laurents and a majestic and often demanding score by Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim.

Robbins was a choreographer at heart, and his 1957 production put dance at the centre of the action to an unprecedented extent. This, and the show’s tragic theme, made it an instant sensation and an enduring success.

It’s 1961 film version won 10 Oscars, including best picture, and inducted into the American musicals’ pantheon its great songs, “Somewhere”, “Maria”, “America”, “One Hand, One Heart”, “Tonight” and “I Feel Pretty”.

But It’s always been a tough act. Bernstein wondered whether even his original Broadway cast could deliver the brutal combination of singing, dancing and acting it demanded.

It has been questioned by some in the past whether non-Latin performers could adequately portray its Puerto Rican characters. But this was not a concern with this production. The cast, and their voice coaches Julia Moody and Donald Woodburn, do such a fine job with accents and inflections that it is a surprise to see not one Latino name among them. Suzie Melloy, fine and sassy as the fire-brand Anita, and Lyndon Watts, as the tightly coiled Puerto Rican gang leader Bernado, capturing just the right mix of cool and fire, are stand-outs.

Indeed, director Taylor and choreographer Lisa O'Dea marshal all their young charges with precision but sometimes there's a swagger missing from the production's step and a catch absent in its voice.

This may, in part, have been because the balance of the critical duets between Maria (the powerful, charismatic Miranda Macpherson) and Tony (William Groucutt) was affected by poor sound reproduction. Similar problems beset some of the ensemble numbers but the beautiful Somewhere, sung by Shannen Alyce and the company, suffered no such problems and was a real highlight.

High-quality sound is more critical to performances in a musical than great sets and lighting (and these, by Steve Nolan and Mark Howett respectively, are wonderful) and deserved more attention and resources.

For all that, it's fantastic to see a great show given a full production with a talented team behind it. This West Side Story confirms that the big WAAPA music theatre show is a wonderful gift to the people of Perth as well as a huge moment for its young performers. May it long continue thus.

West Side Story runs until June 21.

The West Australian

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