Surprisingly, the West Side Story musical is one of the best performance I had seen. I usually will tell you the story first but this time round, let me tell you why I think this is one musical you should not miss.
Not the usual opera musical style
Unlike the more opera style of telling of the story through memorable lyrics ad music, DANCE takes the cake in this musical. The West Side Story used dance to tell the story, unlike the usual of lyrics, song and elaborate stage set. Every movement, from the fight scene to the presentation of the lovers’ thoughts in the duet “Somewhere”.
You may be looking at them doing the swing or the salsa, or twirling around during a musical number but you may soon observe that the entire dance sequence was actually ballet. I love how classical ballet has been integrated deeply into the modern dances and added smooth fluidity and grace into the modern numbers.
I also spotted a couple of interpretive dance numbers. I was impressed! I would never know if that sequence was part of the original choreography, however it was indeed mentioned this was closely based on the original. Bringing in interpretative dance into a musical during the 1950s must have been a very bold and pioneering move to thrust forward modern dance.
Unlike classical musical style, the score of the West Side Story played the role of consort to the musical. While it guided the entire story alone, it does not take centre stage. While mainstream musicals match note for word, the music for the West Side Story acted like a blank canvas to paint freely on, and not a colouring page where lines and areas were drawn for you to fit colours in.
Also, because of the two different cultures of the white Americans and the Puerto Ricans in the show, the music actually highlights and differentiates the culture and styles of each of the gang. In the opening piece, listen well and you can hear the subtle hints in change when the music was playing for the Jets versus the Sharks (Puerto Ricans).
I was under the impression that there would not be some unforgettable music and songs in the show, but when “Tonight” and “Somewhere” began to play, I began to sing along, surprising myself that those were familiar songs — songs that I used to train to in Drama classes.
Of course, on top of it all, one of my favourite orchestra piece: Mambo! — was written by none other than Leonard Bernstein!! He writes all the music in this show! I was speechless — some of my favourite music were actually soundtracks of this highly-acclaimed musical!
Not to forget having Maestro Donald Chen in the house, you know the music quality would be top notch and every note hits perfectly on time to create the exact impact that was needed to accompany an action or dance move.
Seriously, I’m in love — with music.
The lights and sounds
If you have been following my reviews, you would know I am pretty picky when t ones to on the timing on light and sound cues to a stage performance. Well, if you haven’t; light and sound cues creates that impact needed on an action on stage. It could be a pointe in a dance move or hitting the baton on someone’s head. You can never appreciate the entirety of a reason in a particular movement.
Take for an example, if the lights didn’t dim and the spotlight did come on exactly the movement John Travolta made the signature Saturday Night Fever pose, would the impact still be there? The wow would be lost and he would look more like a chorus on stage with a pretty dance move than the highlight of he show.
The timing for the cues on the West Side Story were very on point and on time. While I can’t say for many classic musicals (hey, I do have a memory capacity) but I must admit that this was one of the rare moments I was treated with the most delectable visual feast.
The Unique Transitions
Classic musical styles used stage sets and storyline to make the transitions between each scene, usually moving and changing of scene sets or dramatic light changes on set, I was enthralled that the West Side Story adopted a more unique technique.
They cleverly made use of negative space and a spotlight — where characters would stand into that circle and continue the story line with a presentation of a conversation or a thought, to transit between scene or a passage of time. It was unlike classic musical styles, and definitely a refreshing difference in comparison.
The West Side Story
With the numerous award nominations that the original production had, it was not difficult to draw me to attend the musical and see for myself the music and lyrics that brought this musical 60 years of performance running.
The story set in the 1950s New York where gang fights were a common occurrence. A boy and a girl from opposite gangs fell in love with each other. It was not an easy relationship, but they believed love would conquer all. Alas, a modern day Romeo and Juliet story was cast in stone.
The backstory of how this stage production came to be was a long and arduous journey. The first working title was called East Side Story and definitely did not have any blazing Spanish passion in it. During the time when social unrest were common, the West Side Story became timely as the show went on stage.
“What does it take to get through…” , the pleading message of peace was peppered throughout the show. It is still timely now as it was timely back then as the world is now becoming a very complicated and messy place. It was as if Arthur Laurent left a delicate message to the future:
In life, peace and Love are two most important things, and the rest are mere smokescreen.
The West Side Story runs two weeks from:
13 September to 30 September 2017 in Singapore
at Marina Bay Sands MasterCard Theatres.
For more information, please check out Singapore’s Sistic website:
Somehow, Some day, Somewhere!
Special thanks to Base Entertainment and Sliding Door Entertainment for the invitation to the West Side Story Opening Night Gala!
Above review and opinions were all my own.
Read my other Musical reviews!
Review: Forbidden City the Musical (Singapore 2017)
Review: Sound of Music Musical (Singapore 2014)
Review: Phantom of the Opera