‘West Side Story’ is as good as musicals get

‘West Side Story’ is as good as musicals get

Show: West Side Story
Director: Matthew Wild
Cast: Jonathan Roxmouth, Lynelle Kenned, Christopher Jaftha, Bianca Le Grange, Stephen Jubber, with the Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra
Venue: Artscape Opera House until August 23
Review: Rafiek Mammon

“Could it be? Yes, it could.” It is confirmed: something good has indeed come to the Artscape Opera House. Matthew Wild’s interpretation of ‘West Side Story’ is as good as any musical gets.
Ultimately, critics can sit with a red pen and make their oft-meaningless ticks and crosses: crosses about wavering American and/or Latino accents, or about cast members sounding a little “tired” on opening night; or dancers not always being 100% synchronized. And while some of it might even be fair commentary, while doing so, we must also remember that these days our t’s are crossed and our i’s dotted by keyboards. We no longer have to do them manually. My point: stop looking for the ineffectual. Look for the important stuff…see the woods for the trees, and make constructive remarks. And, as a character in a classic film, the name of which escapes me, once said: if you have nothing worthwhile to contribute, restrict your remarks to the weather.

And when one does stand back and see the majesty of this production, which, by the way, this rendering of ‘West Side Story’ forces one to do, then the production is simply superb – a perfect acquiescence of form and content.
Conor Murphy’s colossal moving sets that depict the cold, harsh concrete jungle that the story is set against are craftily juxtaposed with the soft, romanticism and dreams of a better future of protagonists, Tony (Jonathan Roxmouth) and Maria (Lynelle Kenned). The ever-engaging Roxmouth was clearly born to play Tony (is there a musical part he wasn’t born to play?) while Kenned’s singing prowess far surpasses her acting dexterity, with moments where she looks almost uncomfortable, or indecisive like she has not yet fully inhabited the role. Still, together, their energy packs an incalculable musical punch.

Bianca Le Grange, sounding very much like Gloria (Sofia Vergara) of ‘Modern Family’ fame, is undoubtedly one of the best things in the show. She sings like a dream and dances equally well, certainly commanding attention as she oscillates effortlessly between the spot-on interpretation of fiery, feisty and funny in the role of Anita.

This is clearly a creative team effort. Some musicals you go and see for the music. Others, you see for its clever lines. While with some, you go and see for the one or two songs or characters that typify the musical or perhaps for the costumes and set design. This production has it all. Charl-Johan Lingenfelder and Louisa Talbot as musical director and choreographer respectively, bring the catchy songs to life, giving numbers like ‘America’ and ‘Gee, Officer Krupke’ a real amusing working over.
Joshua Cutts’ lighting design is spectacular, with a few “wow” moments in places, and Eastern Acoustics must be congratulated for yet again making our local musical stages sound nothing less than world-class.
And to those who think that this was the perfect opportunity for Wild to have explored xenophobia in a South African context, and that he would have done well to “South-Africanise” (a term I thoroughly loathe) the story, you will be disappointed to learn that he has eruditely done no such thing! He has stuck to a traditional interpretation that is staged splendidly, and has just the right number of bells and whistles to be pretty, oh so pretty!

* Book here.