So date night this week was watching West Side Story at Marina Bay Sands. I think we hadn’t watched a musical together for more than 2 years, the last being Singing in the Rain!
West Side Story is a musical that first premiered in Broadway in 1957. Set in 1950s New York, the musical describes events across just a few days, but what an intense number of hours it spanned!
The story brought us through fights between White teenage hoodlums and Latino (and Latina) Puerto Rican immigrants, fighting over a narrow street turf. Intertwined within was a rather predictable Romeo and Juliet story, with lovers hailing from these Jets and Sharks gangs in place of the Montague and Capulet families.
What I really enjoyed
From the beginning, the dancing was dynamic. The performers brought across the hot-blooded teenage angst and the muscularity of a teenager gangster’s physique across very well. I also enjoyed the flamboyant Latina dances. The gracefulness belies some serious athleticism and skilful ballerina moves.
However, my favourite dance sequence was the post-intermission avant garden interpretation of bliss on a final day, where there is no more hate and no more fighting. With the entire cast decked out in pure white, it was indeed evocative of heaven, our only hope of such peace, a point that rings close to home even today (just heard that the DPRK just launched yet another missile over Japan, sigh).
The music was by famous musical composer Leonard Bernstein. Wrought with percussion and brass, it dramatically brought across the high emotions that ran rife throughout the musical.
The singing by the male lead who played the role of Tony was certainly of the highest Broadway quality. He brought forth such dulcet tones with such effortless ease, and hardly needed to take a breath as he sang unendingly long notes. As someone who sings, I could appreciate how tough it was to achieve those high standards!
Female lead Maria acted the part of besotted ingénue very well. Even though she certainly had stellar vocals, her extensive use of vibrato meant that it was hard to hear her words at times.
Many of the songs were familiar to me. From “Tonight, tonight” and “I feel pretty (oh so pretty)”, “America”, to classic Broadway ballad “Somewhere (Somehow, Someday)”.
As I watched it, what became clear was that racial tensions haven’t changed very much in the 60 years since this musical premiered. Suspicion and hatred towards foreigners (interestingly, especially to Singaporeans, the Puerto Ricans were taunted as “PRs”!). That the xenophobia can so easily translate to the loss of lives is also something we should continue to take to heart. To me, it was a reminder to let cool heads prevail, and to remember that race is after all just a function of varying amounts of melanin in skin.
What I didn’t enjoy so much<\b>
The initial scenes were a little draggy, and all the rough talking and childish bravado got to me after a while. Wished the “Inspector” would just haul all these delinquents into prison instead of being brusquely pathetic (as intended). Or that Tony could have been written as a stronger character who charismatically and effectively slaps them into “waking up their idea”, instead of being a character who gets tragically swept up in the emotions of the moment and ultimately ends up as yet another casualty.
I felt that this musical was suitable for a more mature audience, rather than kids, as it featured a rape scene (choreographed into dance), as well as a number of sexual innuendos that were not just verbal but also acted out graphically.
So whilst I wouldn’t go as far as The Times to say that West Side Story is the “Number 1 Greatest Musical of All Time”, I would say that it’s a good Broadway production.
The current cast is actually on a World Tour, spanning Germany, Switzerland, and Asian countries such as Japan and sunny Singapore. It is the only production of the musical in the world that features Jerome Robbins’ original choreography.
I think it was apt that the young company of performers were all casted in New York City. They perform as if they were living this unique creation, giving it all in their dancing, singing and acting. They do it with technical brilliance and mind-blowing energy.
The orchestra, expertly led by Leonard Bernstein’s former pupil, the acclaimed conductor Donald Chan, also shows off the rich sound quality of this exceptional, manifold masterwork to full effect.
Tue – Fri: 8pm
Sat (16 Sep): 1pm & 6pm
Sat (23 Sep): 2pm & 8pm
Sun: 1pm & 6pm
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