Review: West Side Story, Sadler’s Wells, EC1

PUBLISHED: 12:20 12 August 2013 | UPDATED: 12:20 12 August 2013

West Side Story at Sadler's Wells. Picture by

West Side Story at Sadler's Wells. Picture by


Music by one of the most important composers of the 20th century, Leonard Bernstein. Lyrics by legendary pop music poet Stephen Sondheim. Ambitious choreography by an icon of modern dance, Jerome Robbins. Story by William Shakespeare. It’s no wonder West Side Story still has the power to thrill and delight audiences more than half a century after its premiere on Broadway.

West Side Story at Sadler's Wells. Picture by www.nilzboehme.deWest Side Story at Sadler's Wells. Picture by

It’s hard to imagine this show featuring in one of those TV talent searches hosted by Graham Norton, where Andrew Lloyd Webber breaks the hearts of stage school hopefuls battling for a flicker of West End fame. They wouldn’t dare, would they? West Side Story is the holy grail of stage musicals – a work almost perfect in its symmetry and with songs that will challenge and stretch even the most technically accomplished of singers: timeless melodies such as I Feel Pretty, One Hand One Heart, Tonight and the show-stopping Somewhere.

The reworking of the Romeo and Juliet tragedy as a murderous teenage gang feud, transferred to the gritty slums of New York, broke the mould previously set for American musicals. It’s dark themes and absence of a happy ending were a shock to audiences weaned on happy-go-lucky shows with soft centres. The passion and energy of the show burn fiercely and the pulsating mix of emotions – including some sharp humour – make an unbeatable combination. It’s like a grand opera that’s accessible for all.

This spectacular revival, directed by renowned choreographer Joey McKneely, is beautifully designed, with some stunning lighting and effects. And flashes of breathtaking dancing by a talented ensemble underscore the raw emotion of the story.

As the star-crossed young lovers on whom the drama centres, Liam Tobin (Tony) and Elena Sancho-Pereg (Maria) make a delightful couple. Other highlight performances come from Penelope Armstead-Williams as Anita, whose storming rendition of the witty song America, proved one of the show’s most memorable moments, and an eye-catching comic cameo by Luke Hawkins as livewire gang-member Action.

All in all, West Side Story offers a very big bang for your buck.

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