Jerome Robbins, Leonard Bernstein, Stephen Sondheim, Arthur Laurents
Royal Exchange Company
Royal Exchange, Manchester
6 April 2019 - 25 May 2019; 2hr 30min inc interval
They've pushed the chairs back, or at least taken out the front row banquette seats, to give this greatest of musicals all the room it richly deserves. Trying to contain it all within the cylindrical confines of the Royal Exchange might not have seemed the obvious location in the first place, but director Sarah Frankcom's audacious move pays off handsomely and actually reveals several more facets to the show, rather than impinging on its scale. Seen so up-close and personal, it's very nearly a West Side Selfie, and if the intention was to introduce the sublime suite of music from Leonard Bernstein and erudite Stephen Sondheim lyrics to new, younger audiences then it pays off handsomely. The added bonus is that such an intimate production also allows a fuller appreciation of Arthur Laurents’ script.
The production also gives you a sense of the edginess and raw energy that must have accompanied the original Broadway performances in the late 50s, when many had doubted it would prosper.
Aletta Collins has devised a whole new choreography to fit the size and shape of the Exchange stage and while some will baulk at interfering with Jerome Robbins’ original concept, it loses none of the potency and with the closeness, often achieves a genuinely thrilling sense of risk - especially in the fight scenes.
In young Mexican actress Gabriela Garcia the production has found a pretty and witty Maria who can also capture all the muddle between adolescent love and young womanhood. Like many of the large cast of young performers she is making her debut here as well as, like the others, a name for themselves.
A Mexican flag, waved by supporters in the audience, turns into a virtual Mexican Wave as the audience rise for a standing ovation. A nice touch that the 10-strong band, contained in an off-stage compartment, also gets to share in the rousing walk-on after the show’s finale.
Don’t miss the opportunity to see it all for yourself.