By Laurie Scarborough
The Fugard Theatre’s latest production of West Side Story has been awaited with much anticipation. Their social media campaign for the show had left me a little breathless and now after watching it I’m still a little breathless. It was truly an outstanding show.
Couple the famous music by Leonard Bernstein, a book by Arthur Laurents and lyrics by musical theatre legend Stephen Sondheim, choreography by Louisa Talbot, musical direction by Charl-Johan Lingenfelder and directed by Matthew Wild, it was hard to fault.
As a dancer, the choreography was important for me for this dance-heavy show, and wow was it good. The dancers and chorus were excellent, rising to the occasion with energy and conviction. In fact, the high-energy performance from the entire cast was excellent, filling the enormous stage easily.
Jonathan Roxmouth as Tony and Lynelle Kenned as Maria were perfectly cast, Roxmouth playing the “good bad boy” with a careful and layered elegance, and Kenned capturing the youthful and sweet innocence of Maria convincingly.
The enchanting “Tonight”, coupled with a mesmerising display of fairy lights, was beautifully sung by Roxmouth and Kenned, their voices blending wonderfully. Both have individually stunning and controlled voices which they use emotively very effectively, but together they were magic.
“Gee, Office Krupke” was hilarious. Krupke was knocked out cold before the song started and the Jets used him as a human puppet throughout the song. This novel reinvention of the song was perfect for this production and only added to the humour of the song, which the Jet boys performed superbly.
The set design was something close to amazing, making full use of the enormous Opera House stage. The high cement walls and three-story fire-escape levels captured the bleak city scape and the clever use of multiple stories for the drug store was inspired. The smooth transitions between the scenes only added to the flow of the show and the effective set design was perfect for the show.
“Somewhere”, sung by a member of the chorus instead of by Maria and Tony, was a creative risk that I felt fell a bit flat. While the song was beautifully sung, it would have been just as beautiful from Kenned and Roxmouth as it was originally intended, and the scene felt a bit motionless with the gang members lined up at the back of the stage and Maria and Tony embracing for the duration of the song.
This small note aside, the show was outstanding. The SBAM artists who are part of the cast, Adrian Galley (as Doc), Jenna Robinson-Child (as Minnie), Sven-Eric Muller (as Diesel), and Delray Halgryn (as Velma) should be proud of their work on the Opera House stage.
The show truly was outstanding, worthy of an international stage, and proving that theatre in South Africa is only becoming better and better. A deserved standing ovation if there ever was one! West Side Story plays at the Artscape Opera House until 23 August, book your tickets here.