Theatre review: Fresh and exciting level of dance and musical excellence

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With right-wing, anti-immigration policies the flavour of the month, perhaps a visit to see West Side Story could be the antidote the electorate needs.

Currently showing at Milton Keynes Theatre, the musical, written in 1957, tells the timeless story of a pair of star-crossed lovers in a doomed battle to overcome the racial and cultural prejudices of their friends and family.

In this case it is the American Tony and Puerto Rican Maria struggling to overcome the fear and intolerance of their contemporaries, but these names or nationalities could be substituted for any group of immigrants and ‘natives’ of any large town or city in the world where mass immigration has occurred.

We begin the show with a stage full of prowling, preening and pumped up rival gang members.

It is immediately obvious this version of West Side Story feels more balletic in nature with bare footed Jets and Sharks throwing each other around in a graceful frenzy of pointed toes and out-stretched arms.

Playing the part of Tony, Louis Maskell displays his extraordinary vocal range during Something’s Coming.

The first act also features a beautifully choreographed dance- off’ between the Jets and the Sharks that culminates in a dream-like sequence where the whole cast melts away into the background as Tony and Maria take centre stage for their ‘love at first sight’ moment.

Katie Hall brings an powerful operatic voice to the part of Maria and harmonises sublimely with Maskell on Somewhere.

To contrast with the sadness of the lovers doomed relationship, the cast do a great job in bringing out the humour in some of the productions most memorable songs.

Djalenga Scott (Anita) combines expert comic timing with a deft dance routine during a breathtaking performance of America.

A personal favourite. Gee, Officer Krupke, is also performed with athletic gusto by the Jet boys who creatively use their bodies to form objects including a witness stand and a pscyhologist’s couch.

The set design is quite minimal and, for the majority of the time is a series of balconies with a projected view of Manhatten in the background.

This allows the most amount of space for a large ballet sequence, which depicts a heavenly scene of forgiveness between the warring gangs, before the tragic, violent ending of the musical.

The balconies are used to maximum effect at the end of the first act when half a dozen characters stand at different levels and sing a perfectly harmonised version of Tonight.

Helping add to the ebb and flow of the drama, praise must also go to the orchestra that complements the ‘stripped back’ feel of the production with an expert level of sound throughout.

Overall this production leans towards the highbrow with a heavy ballet and operatic influence that should not put off first-timers or long-standing West Side story fans.

This version maintains the emotional punch of the classic story but also brings a fresh and exciting level of dance and musical excellence to the long-running show.

West Side Story is showing at Milton Keynes Theatre until June 14. To book call 0844 871 7652 or go to