Theatre Review: West Side Story – Riverside Theatre (performances until 20th Feb)

Even if you haven’t yet seen a production of West Side Story, chances are you a probably familiar with one of its very recognisable tunes or melodies. From “Something’s Coming” to “Tonight” to “Somewhere” to even the very “Overture”, you’ll recognize something (eh). But really, seeing them all together in their original setting is the way to hear them. This latest production of West Side Story is just such a place!

This is apparent from the moment the in-house orchestra starts playing those starting notes. The sound is large and wonderfully familiar. Cue opening number! The musical itself is surprisingly dance-heavy, with the prologue battles between gangs choreographed entirely as a dance sequence. The boys perform admirably here- hitting their marks on point, getting the right height in their jumps, and demonstrating a practiced synchronicity.

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Our story continues to unfold its tale of a tragic love, the Romeo and Juliet style disaster of the innocents. There are two local rival gangs- the Caucasian Americans and the Puerto Ricans who loathe each other and frequently initiate tumbles. Each gang is fronted by their leader- Riff (Jonathan Nash-Day) and Bernado (Julian Kuo). Both boys capture their roles wonderfully, with an enthusiastic passion and mentality of brotherhood on Nash-Day’s side and a fierce pride on Kuo’s.

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Caught in the middle of this hate are our star-crossed lovers Tony (Luigi Lucente) and Maria (Elisa Colla). Lucente shows from his very first “Something’s Coming” that he has the voice of a mature theatre actor, charismatic and charming. Be prepared for Colla’s voice to absolutely blow you away though, her stunning operatic vocals hitting high above the production and soaring out into the enchanted crowd.

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Another standout of the production is Rowena Vilar in the role of the feisty Anita. She manages to be loud and fiery, and soulfully vocal. Her dancing is easily the most striking on stage, and her expressive delivery ensures your attention is almost always hers when she’s present.

The production leads are very much supported by a strong ensemble cast, in particular The Jets. These boys demonstrate more than once a strong choral of voices and dance, and their “Gee, Officer Krupke” was a clear highlight of the performance judging by the audience’s loud reaction.

So it is really with talents like these that these smaller production houses shouldn’t be discounted from your viewing lists. Here they have taken a large, well-loved, production and comfortably made it their own- doing justice to the story and the music. I never felt like I was missing anything, and the level of professionalism in acting, voice and dance was commendable.

And with these kinds of production companies being able to tackle more musicals, and more often, there’s plenty more to love!

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West Side Story will be finding a new way of living at the Riverside Theatre until the 20th February. For more information visit www.riversideparramatta.com.au

The reviewer attended the 3pm performance on the 7th February.

Photo credit: © Grant Leslie

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