Debating what the most amazing aspect of The Fugard presented West Side Story currently showing at the Artscape Theatre is, is like debating whether George Clooney looks sexier with or without a beard. The point is he sizzles on screen as much at the cast of West Side Story sizzles on stage. This staging of Sondheim’s classic is hot, hot, hot!
Following the runaway success of Rocky Horror there was a little bit of an underground whisper of ‘Will they actually be able to top that? I mean the crowd just ate it up and kept coming back for more, how do you repeat that?’ Well, we don’t know how and frankly we also don’t care how; the thing is they just absolutely, unquestionably did!
On opening night (as #WestSideStorySA tweets show to be the case every night), the audience like one person jumped up into a standing ovation at the curtain call… no hesitation, no ‘what are other people doing’, just a pure joyful ‘hell yeah’ applause eruption.
Where to begin to even highlight individual aspects of this glorious musical delight? There is just so much to rave about, so allow us both to get a little verbose as we gush...
Barbs' West Side Story Experience
Maybe let’s start with the live orchestra. Yes, an actual orchestra in the pit. Not just a pre-recorded backtrack but real live rhythm that becomes the heartbeat of this production as momentum, tension and trepidation build up into a glorious musical high. For that alone musical director and conductor, Charl-Johan Lingenfelder, deserves a ‘Bravo!’
It is also clear that Matthew Wild as director had a strong clear vision with this staging of West Side Story. Although the show is 2 hours and 30 minutes long, you don’t feel it at all. This production is so slick you forget about time all together once you have taken your velvety red seat. Adding to this is the escapism world created by the set and lighting design team of Connor Murphy and Joshua Cutts. There is this one scene where it feels like a million lights are raining down on the star-crossed lovers. Whimsical, breathtaking, visually explosive ... there just does not seem to be a strong enough word or phrase to describe that gorgeous moment!
When it comes to the cast, I have to start with a mention for the fabulous performer that is Angela Inglis. She shows off her chameleon like skills as she effortlessly shifts from her sexy Rocky Horror phantom image into the role of West Side Story tomboy, Anybody’s.
If sheer leader talent is to be the deciding factor as to who wins the turf war between the Jets and the Sharks, then this war will surely remain in musical limbo. Both Stephen Jubber (Riff of the Jets) and Chris Jaftha (Bernardo of the Sharks) absolutely own the stage. Seeing the Sharks and the Jets dance battle it out, creates more than one musical ‘hold your breath’ moment. A-MA-ZING!!! However, the Jets taking the mickey out of Officer Krupke, brilliantly played by Richard Lothian, may just be the one scene that swings my ultimate allegiance to the side of the Jets. That, and the sheer fear of sending Action, so convincingly played by Daniel Buys, flying of the handle. As high strung as he is as Action, it will be interesting to see how he takes on the role of the smitten Tony during Sunday matinees.
Bianca Le Grange as Anita definitely brings the sassy. Her performance is stand-out indeed. Although everyone knows that she has an amazing voice, it was a musical delight seeing her take the stage with some of Cape Town’s most seasoned dancers and completely hold her own. Lady Le Grange, you were a brilliant diva in all the right ways!
Bianca as the vivacious Anita is beautifully balanced by Lynelle Kenned's naïve Maria. Well, actually only naïve at first. You see Maria grow into a strong woman. While dealing with love and loss at the same time, she ultimately refuses to break, standing steadfast in her beliefs. Viewed through the eyes of songstress Kenned, Maria becomes a captivating character, revealing layers each more beautiful than the next.
And then, then there is her Tony. Let’s face it, there is no one more ideal to play the role of Tony than Jonathan Roxmouth. Walking out on an absolute opening night musical high, I turned to my friend and said “It is now official, Jonathan can sing the telephone book and it will still be the best thing ever”. His range, emotional depth, acting skills, everything just all together absolutely flawlessly brings the charcater of Tony to life on stage ... from that first note to that last tear, perfection!
Faz’s West Side Story Experience
“I saw you and the world went away..."
That lyric sums up in one sentence the way I feel about this local production of West Side Story.
I very rarely fall completely in love with a production at first sight... in fact the last time that happened, it was with the Phantom of the Opera in 2011, as Erik whisked Christine away to his lair. I remember thinking that the Artscape Theatre stage had never looked so beautiful and couldn’t possibly ever be again.
I stand corrected. Not only is Matthew Wild’s re-envisioned production a simplistic feast for the eyes, he’s managed to elicit such breath-taking performances from his cast, it makes for an overwhelming, heart-thudding theatrical performance you simply have to experience.
By now, the Twitterverse and Jonathan Roxmouth know how crazy in love I am with him because of my opening night gushing posts and I am not even going to try and defend myself (just know I am blushing even as I write this!).
Seriously, though, Jonathan seems to grow in talent and stature each time I see him perform. Keep those tissues handy for when he sings “Maria”, heart-wrenching stuff, I tell you!
Lynelle Kenned is the epitome of innocence and talent as Maria, and is the best surprise talent of the evening. Together, they produce a chemistry so red-hot and of a calibre I haven’t seen on stage, or screen for that matter, in years! It makes Maria and Tony’s doomed love story all the more believable and I’m sure I’m not the only one who wishes their scenes together could have lasted a bit longer.
I’ll admit I had my doubts about what Bianca Le Grange would be like as Anita, but once again, I’m happy to be proven wrong. She brings a Sofia Vergara-esque touch to her character, providing the show’s comical and emotionally gutting moments.
Another beautiful surprise was Natasha Hess as Estella. Her rendition of 'Somewhere' is a goose-bump inducing moment. She can totally hold her own in the company of Kenned and Le Grange!
Kudos to Connor Murphy and Joshua Cutts for their stellar set and lighting design. From the stark illumination of the projects’ stairwells which transforms into the Drugstore and basketball court right before your eyes to the soft hues of the floating fairy lights, which makes for an outstanding replacement for the movie version’s full moon and adds the magical element to Tony and Maria’s first clandestine meeting; this is set wizardry like you’ve never seen it before!
If, like me, you’re dying to see a Broadway or West End show but can’t take an overseas trip right now, West Side Story at the Artscape Theatre is the next best thing, if not the BEST. Simply put, this production is the kind of show that all musical geeks' dreams are made of. Go see it!
Do book a table at the Arts Café for a pre-show dinner. With some tasty specials, including calamari and rice, chicken schnitzel and salad and more for as little as R60, it makes for a delicious start to your theatre night out. Oh, and don’t fortget to taste one of the delicious cocktails that The Fugard has snuck into the Artscape's Chandelier Foyer for the shows' run. We obviously recommend the blue one.
Jets! Sharks! It’s time to rumble! Get your West Side Story tickets, from R95 to R400, at Computicket TODAY. The show runs until Sunday 23 August, 2015.