West Side Story Edinburgh Playhouse

There are many reasons why this is probably the best musical of all – Bernstein’s music, Sondheim’s lyrics, Jerome Robbins choreography, and of course an “original script” from 1595 when Shakespeare wrote Romeo and Juliet. And you can add to that a social relevance that runs from Shakespeare’s time through the 1950s New York of Tony and Maria to any present day city with street gang problems. And it must be said that this excellent, vibrant production does justice to all of this. Fronted by Katie Hall as Maria and Louis Maskell as Tony, who both have the vocal ability required by the demanding score, and powered by a 19 piece orchestra, this is a show guaranteed to leave you breathless long before the end.

Hall’s “I Feel Pretty” and Maskell’s show-stopping “Maria” provide the most memorable moments, but really, this is a production packed with highlights from start to finish. Director and Choreographer Joey McKneely never allows the pace to drop; the standard of the company’s dancing is matched by the fitness needed to see them through more than two hours of unrelenting action. (One slightly odd thing about West Side Story is that for a show that features spectacular dance throughout, the two leads have less dancing to do than the rest of the cast).

Yet this is a dark tale of prejudice and gang rivalry that ends in murder. The Jets resent the presence of the Puerto Rican immigrant Sharks, all the while failing to realise that a generation ago their Polish families must have faced similar problems. Led by the blustering Riff (Jack Wilcox) they’re determined that the streets belong to them, and there’s no place for the Sharks. Needless to say, the Sharks don’t see it that way, and a rumble between the two factions is inevitable. Caught in the middle are the Jets’ Tony and his love Maria, who just happens to be the sister of Sharks’ leader Bernardo. Javier Cid gives a menacing performance as Bernardo which is pleasing to see as the role has often come over as somewhat camp in the past.

There is humour in among all the drama, and the Jets performance of “Gee, Officer Krupke” demonstrates masterful timing as well as comic ability. A special mention goes to Bruce Aguilar Rohan as A-Rab, who catches the eye throughout.

Dance, drama, spectacle, comedy and a hatful of the best songs ever written for the stage, all performed superbly. What more could you need for a great night out?

Jim Welsh