Monday 18 December 2017

West Side Story at the Bord Gais: Musical gains extra texture as America enters the era of Donald Trump

West Side Story at the Bord Gais
West Side Story at the Bord Gais
West Side Story at the Bord Gais
West Side Story at the Bord Gais
West Side Story at the Bord Gais

Katy Hayes

This version of the Romeo and Juliet story with its doomed lovers from opposite New York warring gangs and its tribal undertow of racism and anti-immigration, gains extra texture as America enters the era of Donald Trump.

The Jets are the Americans, many of Polish descent but they’ve conveniently forgotten their immigrant background. They resent the arrival of the Puerto Ricans, the Sharks, who are encroaching on their territory.

West Side Story at the Bord Gais
West Side Story at the Bord Gais

Tony, a Jet, falls in love with the recently arrived Maria, whose brother is the head of the Sharks.

This international touring show is a slick, meticulous production; the two leads Kevin Hack and Jenna Burns have perfect voices. The precision of the dancers is uncanny, and the discipline shows off Jerome Robbins’ original angular choreography to superb effect.

West Side Story at the Bord Gais
West Side Story at the Bord Gais

The show has a string of established classic songs, including Maria, Somewhere, and the rousing, brilliant America.

The artists behind the original production in 1957 include Stephen Sondheim (lyrics), Leonard Bernstein (music) and director/choreographer Jerome Robbins; they all became giants of musical theatre.

West Side Story at the Bord Gais
West Side Story at the Bord Gais

The biggest love affair in West Side Story is not Maria’s devotion to Tony, but the Broadway musical’s love for America. The creative team was of the generation that still believed it was the job of art to instruct and improve their audience, and didn’t feel the need to hide this agenda behind irony or rap lyrics.

The musical has always seen it as a core duty: to create a better version of America, with songs. They were singing and dancing a blueprint for the integration of immigrants in the 1950s. And that tune hasn’t changed.

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