WEST Side Story – 58 years old, Tony and Academy award-winning – no pressure then for MSA Musical Theatre.
West Side Story is a contemporary version of Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet, set in 1950s New York.
With the show being dance-driven with lots of instrumental breaks, this was a challenging production for not only the performers but for the creative team especially.
Nonetheless, they succeeded in creating a contemporary and thrilling version of this legendary musical.
The leading performances did not disappoint. Despite losing his voice earlier in the week, you couldn’t tell when listening to George Fowler, playing Tony, hit the top notes in Tonight with ease.
Disregarding the timing issues from the orchestra in Something’s Coming, he delivered an intense performance, showing an emotional spectrum from leadership towards the end of Act One, to fragility at the finale.
The connection between Fowler and Megan McArthur, playing Maria, was incredibly natural in songs such as Tonight and the Gym Dance. An excellent casting decision.
McArthur’s Latin accent is also surprisingly realistic, considering her Irish heritage.
The standout moment of the production comes from her at her most vulnerable in the finale, grabbing the attention of everyone in the auditorium, baring her soul and becoming emotionally drained towards the climax. A masterclass in acting.
However, the star of the show was Anita, played by Ciara Power. Vocally strong, she sings the chromaticism in songs such as A Boy Like That with ease, whilst having an immediate and sassy stage presence whenever she enters the stage.
Talking to several cast members afterwards, they said, I quote, that they didn’t “feel worthy to be on the same stage as her”. Genuinely.
The other standout moment of the production was Power being attacked by the Jets, making her physically fragile and almost nothing.
You couldn’t take her eyes off her anyway, thanks to her wig and the largest hoop earrings I’ve ever seen on stage.
Other performances that should be noted are Rebecca Lewis’ elegant vocal performance of Somewhere, Tom Adams’ dancing and strong laddish characterisation as one of the Jets, and s0some humour courtesy of Kieran Wellington as the MC.
What surprised me as I left the Greenwood, however, was becoming more engaged with the second act rather than the first, considering that the majority of the more well-known numbers, such as America, Maria, Tonight, Cool, feature in the first act.
Whereas the first act was dance and musically driven, thanks to the orchestra only just managing to fit the pit, the second act placed more importance on the story, with the acting from Fowler, McArthur and Power becoming more exposed and fragile here.
MSA Musical Theatre took a huge risk in taking on one of the most difficult musicals written, in terms of choreography, musically and amount of cast members.
But thanks to strong leading performances ,with great direction by Iain Bishop, the strong accompaniment from the orchestra conducted by Jeremy Walker, and tight choreography by Hannah Douglas, this will go down as one of MSA MT’s most successful and extravagant productions to date.