Tag Archives: West Side Story

West Side Story at Sadler’s Wells

12 Aug

I’d heard great things about this particular production which is why I went to see it on Saturday, having never seen the musical before.  All I knew was that it was based on Romeo and Juliet which, I thought, couldn’t be a bad thing.  I guess I was wrong.


The choreography was great, stylistic with an urban feel.  The setting also added to the atmosphere and the dancing was professional and adept.  However, I don’t know if it’s just me and I’m cynicism personified but I really really REALLY disliked the main characters.  That was weird to me as I’d never actively disliked Romeo and Juliet and Tony and Maria in the play are pretty much the same characters but I honestly found myself wishing they’d just hurry up and meet their end.

The reasons being that their characters seemed utterly lifeless and bland.  Limp, insipid one-dimensional characters whose sentimental gushings made me cringe rather than contemplate the beauty of love.  When Maria finds out that Tony has shot her brother, she doesn’t honestly seem to give a crap.  I don’t know if this was because of the acting in the production or the actual script but she just goes along with things – a passive, reactive puppet.  Also, at one point her friend, Anita -the one female character that was near to being fully developed -(and brother’s girlfriend) is gangraped (a move into VERY dark territory) by the Jets and this seems to be completely passed by.  All Tony and Maria can give a crap about is themselves.  They don’t seem interested in anything else or at least even aware or panicked about the chaos that surrounds them.  Maria’s half-hearted pleas to Tony to prevent the rumble from taking place were about as believable as the plotline of 50 Shades of Grey; she had absolutely no conviction in anything.

On a purely technical level, Maria’s voice was garbled and very difficult to understand, especially when she sang.  Most of the time it was just lots of warbling and vibrato but I couldn’t actually distinguish the lyrics.  Tony was better, clearer in his singing style.  Although his character had slightly more pizazz than Maria’s, I still didn’t particularly take to him and found his romantic sensibilities irritating.

I have concluded then that a significant reason why I enjoyed Romeo and Juliet was the language that Shakespeare used.  To illustrate my point…:

Juliet says:

“When he shall die,
Take him and cut him out in little stars,
And he will make the face of heaven so fine
That all the world will be in love with night
And pay no worship to the garish sun.”

whereas in West Side Story, Maria says:

‘I feel pretty, oh so pretty! I feel pretty, and witty, and gay!’

I mean, I get it.  It’s dialogue that’s right for the setting, the scene etc. but it’s not convincing, evocative or moving which it could have been, especially compared with Shakespeare’s language.

That and in the adaptations I have seen (Franco Zeffirelli’s and my favourite, Baz Luhrman’s), Juliet at least had a bit more attitude and charisma which made me empathise with her and Romeo (who admittedly, is a bit of a non-character but at least his declarations of love are lyrically beautiful).