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Musical with music by Leonard Bernstein, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, book by Arthur Laurents. Entire original production directed and choroegraphed by Jerome Robbins. Direction and Choreography reproduced by Alan Johnson.
The Classic Musical Returns to London!
Based on Shakespeare's timeless lover story 'Romeo and Juliet', 'West Side Story' is set against the gritty backdrop of gang warfare on the streets of New York City. As rival gangs, The Jets and The Sharks, battle over their share of turf, a boy and a girl from opposing sides fall in lone and there begins their tragic fight for survival.
Songs include 'America', 'Tonight', 'Somewhere', 'When You're A Jet', 'I Feel Pretty', 'Something's Coming', 'Maria' and 'Gee, Officer Krupke'.
From 24 May 1999: Paul Manuel will star as 'Tony', he has previously played leading roles in the West End productions of Les Miserables, Smokey Joe's Cafe, Grease and The Hot Mikado. David Habbin, currently playing 'Tony' , leaves at the end of his contract. West Side Story also stars Katie Knight-Adams as 'Maria', with Anna-Jane Casey as 'Anita', Edward Baker Duly as 'Riff' and Graham Macduff as 'Bernardo'.
[24 November] Jeremy Sams presents a new series of four radio programmes - Words and Music - on BBC Radio 4 which looks at the way books and plays are transformed into operas, musicals and even musical films. The Bernstein and Sondheim musical West Side Story - a revival of which is currently playing at the Prince of Wales Theatre - is based on Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet and in the first programme in the Words and Music radio series, Arthur Laurents who wrote the book for West Side Story, discusses with Jeremy Sams the creative liberties he took with the book when adapting it for the musical. Jeremy Sams has, as a director, two productions currently running in London - Spend Spend Spend at the Piccadilly Theatre which won the 1999 Evening Standard Award for 'Best Musical' earlier this week, and 2 Pianos 4 Hands at the Comedy Theatre: Words and Music BBC Radio 4 Sunday 28 November 1.30pm to 2.00pm.
Sondheim Sings, Vol. 1: 1962-72
CD, released 10 May 2005.
Stephen Sondheim turns 75 this year, and in celebration of his birthday, PS Classics Inc. will be unveiling the many demos held in his private collection, of him singing and playing songs he's written from 1946 to the present -- all digitally remastered. Some of these songs have never been heard, written for productions that never happened or cut from shows out of town; many others ended up on Broadway in versions substantially revised after the demos were recorded, giving us a rare chance to hear the artist actually creating his masterworks. Volume I of Sondheim Sings covers the years from 1962 to 1972 and is available to pre-order online now....
PRINCE EDWARD Theatre Previewed 1 October, Opened 6 October 1998, Closed 9 January 1998
PRINCE OF WALES Theatre Run 22 January 1999 to 8 January 2000
Extracts from the reviews from the Prince Edward Theatre opening:
"Forty years on, this imperishable masterpiece of musical theatre is as powerful, pertinent and poignant as ever. The story of Romeo and Juliet is relocated on the West Side of New York. Knife fights among the local kids and Puerto Rican immigrants, the Jets and the Sharks, are a fact of life. Will the Jets hold their territory with skin or with switchblades? The air of foreboding is also one of excited anticipation - some thing's coming around the corner. Tony the Jet meets Maria, the sister of Sharks, at the local gym dance. Two views of America, the land of youth and opportunity, but also the dangerous melting pot of racism and despair. The show is a result of an all-time dream team collaboration between composer Leonard Bernstein, lyricist Stephen Sondheim, librettist Arthur Laurents and choreographer/director the late Jerome Robbins. Mr Laurents. who has lately down-graded the contribution of Mr Robbins, was in the audience last night to applaud the young, eager cast in a production that fully honours the genius of the original staging. He has supervised the show and kept the old faith. In truth, it may lack a final killer punch of a truly authoritative revival. But one cannot imagine the dance scenes, or the magnificent dream sequence staged in any more convincing a style. And the finger-clicking 'Cool' is a perfect match of musical mood and stage expression, a timeless bebop of adolescent strutting. The doomed couple are superbly played by David Habbin, who looks like a young Imran Khan, and Katie Knight-Adams as a sweet-voiced Maria who does not quite reach the operatic outer edges of the role. The forces of parenthood, dance-hall supervision and neighbourhood policemen just about hold sway. But authority is crumbling. 'Gee, Officer Krupke', my favourite song, where the Jets mockingly justify delinquency as a social disease, is chillingly prophetic. In their T-shirts, jeans and sneakers, the Jets are modem again. The mauve and black Latino costumes of the Sharks imply exotic other cultures. 'America', pulsatingly performed by Anna-Jane Casey as Anita, is a flash point of the show's obsession with notions of fatherland. From start to finish, this is a brilliant musical, with less clunkiness in the plotting than in Shakespeare. The dance rape of Anita and the lack of reconciliation are depressing improvements on the bard. And the lyrics are as good as any Shakespeare wrote -'When you're a Jet you're a Jet all the way, from your first cigarette to your last dying day.' Wonderful." Michael Coveney, The Daily Mail
"Forty years on, how does the old show stand up? Pretty well is the answer. The shock impact may have gone. And the sociology may be suspect. But Leonard Bernstein's score is a cracker, the choreography still dazzles and the dramatic structure is sound. It helps, of course, that Shakespeare supplies the basic plot in that Romeo and Juliet is transposed to New York's West Side. In one sense, Arthur Laurent's book even improves on the original. In Shakespeare the deaths of hero and heroine depend on the notoriously erratic Italian postal service. But here the false information about Maria's death is only imparted because the go between, Anita, is assaulted and all-but-raped in Doc's drugstore: the climactic tragedy is brought about by circumstance and character rather than by a piece of plot manipulation. Where West Side Story now looks somewhat shaky is in its equivocal attitude to the gang warfare between Jets and Sharks. On the one hand, the show liberally claims that street violence was a direct product of the squalor, poverty and ethnic turbulence of fifties New York. "You make this world lousier," says the drugstore owner, to which the reply is: "That's the way we found it Doc." But the show's most famous comic number - Gee, Officer Krupke - also implies that these kids are knowing smartarses who know how to press the right buttons and run rings round shrinks and social workers. In short, the show treats the kids as both victims and exploiters. But this version, in which Jerome Robbins's original direction and choreography is faithfully reproduced by Alan Johnson, also makes one thing abundantly clear: that the system is heavily loaded in favour of the first-wave immigrant Jets rather than the Puerto Rican Sharks. An unusually strong performance by Kevin Quarmby as the local cop, Lt Schrank, reminds us of his sympathy with the Jets and loathing of the so-called "Spicks": this is institutional racism at its, nastiest. But, in the end, what makes West Side Story a great musical is its theatricality rather than its sociology: above all, its choreography. And if any one moment sums up the excellence of Robbins's work, it is the scene in the gym where a polite, supervised formal dance suddenly turns into an aggressive pulsating mambo full of steam and sex. No less impressive is a number like Cool where bodies coil and jacknife with anger and frustration. Robbins's choreography, in fact, exactly matches the Stravinskyesque rhythms of Bernstein's score. And in this revival, with a basically English cast, the dancing is well up to par. "Candy-arsed kids do not a rumble make," as an American friend once observed but there is no danger of that here. And, even if the voices are sometimes all too patently miked, David Habbin's Tony, Kate Knight-Adams's Maria, and Anna-Jane Casey's Anita all give highly creditable performances. For those of us who recall the fifties, West Side Story has now acquired the patina of nostalgia. But for anyone coming to the show totally fresh, this revival will give them a good idea of why it really was a musical landmark." Michael Billington, The Guardian
"These are lean times for great new musicals but the golden oldies just keep on coming. Already this year London has seen a major production of Showboat, as well as Trevor Nunn's matchless staging of Oklahoma! at the National. Now comes this welcome revival of West Side Story, a revolutionary show when it was premiered on Broadway in 1957 and still full urgent passion and vitality today. Indeed, it makes allegedly modern and hard hitting Rent, with its bummer of a rock score and tooth-rotting sentimentality seem positively arthritic. West Side Story was the first dance-led musical, and though it was written by a dream team - music by Leonard Bernstein, book by Arthur Laurents, and lyrics by the young Stephen Sondheim - there is no doubt that Jerome Bobbins deserved his top billing as the man who had the original idea, and then directed and choreographed the entire production with such panache. It must also be admitted, however, that for all the bigness of its heart and the surging power of the dance routines, with their macho strutting and moments of yielding tenderness, there are times when this revival does betray signs of age. Robbins only died this summer and he kept a tight control on the show. You'd be mad to want to change his choreography (with the possible exception of the rather dreary dream ballet), but some of the staging, faithfully reproduced by Alan Johnson who was a member of the original 1957 Broadway company, now seems clumsy, especially the clunky scene changes. Oliver Smith's famous fire escape designs are also way past their sell-by date. In the Fifties I suspect they looked minimal and modish, but they now seem drab and almost entirely fail to capture the street buzz of New York; and while most of Laurents's dialogue is serviceable enough, and occasionally eloquent in its simplicity, there are some lines - "Now, you'd all better dig this and dig it the most" - that sound embarrassingly like an elderly father desperately trying to appear hip in front of his teenage children. Where it really matters, the show still hits home and hits home hard. The ingenious updating of the Romeo and Juliet story works superbly, and the constant reminders of racial tension between whites and Puerto Ricans create a bleak, charged atmosphere unusual in musicals. The show could as easily be set in the Los Angeles or Northern Ireland of the 1990s as in 1950s New York. Bernstein's score is, of course, packed with a host of terrific take-home tunes that have enjoyed a long life outside the show. What I'd forgotten was the sheer vitality of the orchestrations, with their nervy sense of city life and the febrile excitement of youth and burning desire. This production has been on the road for a year but the young and almost completely unknown cast betray no sign of staleness. By and large they are better dancers than actors, and it is the set pieces for the Jets and the Sharks - the wonderfully cool and competitive finger-clicking opening number, the thrillingly choreographed fight sequence -that will linger most potently in the memory. David Habbin is an ardent charismatic and strong-voiced Tony, while Katie Knight-Adams has the right mixture of innocence, warmth and awakening sexuality as Maria. The pair strike sparks off each other in the great love ducts and in the final minutes of blood-shed and grief, this still remarkable musical achieves a truly tragic grandeur." Charles Spencer, The Daily Telegraph
"The West End is bumper to bumper with golden oldies. This follows Oklahoma!, Show Boat, Chicago - and even Annie. Unlike Oklahoma!, which was daringly overhauled for a generation new to it, West Side Story - an update of the Romeo and Juliet story is a throwback. Every fingersnap, and sneaker step of the late Jerome Robbins's choreography is in place, preserved just as it was in 1957. Hardcore fans will be thrilled. Besides, you simply can't argue with a fistful of hit songs from the surgingly emotional Maria to the aggressive America from the haunting Somewhere to the punk wit of Gee, Officer Krupke. They're classics. If anything, Leonard Bernstein's music is more beguiling than the dancing. The score is brimming with cha-cha mambo, jazz and thrillingly aggressive street cool. The cast here is well drilled, but about as delinquent as a lot of young Cliff Richards. Katie Knight-Adams and David Habbin as the star-crossed lovers are fine, but fall short of the tragic. The front cloths and box sets are clumsy recreations and throughout you can almost taste the aspic. Perfectly respectable, sure. Exciting occasionally. But the show now needs to make sense in a modern context - new moves in new productions for the new century. West Side Story is a masterpiece: it's time to move it on." Robert Gore-Langton, The Express