Sunday, May 21, 2017

REVIEW: West Side Story

HK Academy of Performing Arts Lyric Theatre, Friday May 19

2017 marks the 60th anniversary of West Side Story, which is arguably the ultimate dance musical since it first burst onto the Broadway stage in 1957. Coincidentally, 2018 marks the 100th anniversary of Leonard Bernstein, the composer of the musical. In fact, if you are here in Hong Kong, HKPhil’s West Side Story in Concert where the complete 1961 film wiil be shown with live music.


Now back to this production of West Side Story. This is my third time to be see this same production. The first was at the Macao Cultural Centre in Macau back in 2005 and another time at Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris in 2013. The fact that I am seeing this again in Hong Kong is a testimony of how enjoyable this production is.


Director and Choreographer Joey McKneely successfully distilled the staging for tour and it looked more akin to a ballet set than a Broadway musical. Having said that, the series of the signature New York fire escapes that evoked the Upper West Side neighborhood and the cityscape projections on the screen were effective enough to plunge the audience into the setting of this famous Shakespearean story. The one think I didn't like in both the previous time I saw this production remains the one thing I can't get over with. I still don’t understand why the director chose to have the ladies dance the America number barefooted. I can’t help but feel that it was equivalent to transposing down a song to accommodate a singer.


This production is heavily reliant on the talents on stage. Because it is a famous and familiar musical, the audience do have a very high expectation. Kevin Hack's Tony provides all the reason why Maria fell for him in less than a dance. His voice has a beautiful and even tone thoughout its range. Jenna Burns was a suitable Maria to Hack's Tony with a small but bright voice. Both were vocally and dramatically very effective. Keely Beirne delivered an outstanding portrayal of Anita with equal confidence in both singing and dancing.  The rest of the cast did very well in both dancing and singing; and they are so far the best of the three performances I have seen.

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