Michael Tanner

Bracing Bernstein

<strong>West Side Story<br /> </strong><em>Sadler’s Wells</em> <strong>Tête à Tête</strong><br /> <em>Riverside Studios, Hammersmith</em>

West Side Story

Sadler’s Wells

Tête à Tête
Riverside Studios, Hammersmith

West Side Story is just over half a century old, and unlike most famous musicals of its period, or any other, it doesn’t just get ‘revived’ every now and then, it is very much in the repertory — but of what? There’s hardly such a thing as a repertory of musicals, or if there is then this is almost the only plausible member. And it seems not to suit opera companies, though that may be partly because of the demands it makes. But there is the further question of what kind of singers it requires, and the touring production at Sadler’s Wells, which is enjoying a long run there and is travelling round the world, virtually a whole career for its cast, doesn’t answer that question. In fact it leaves a lot of unanswered questions, while providing a bracing and enjoyable evening, playing to packed and thrilled audiences.

To my great surprise, I found myself responding to West Side Story more positively than I had when I saw it in London in 1958. I didn’t know then, what I do now, how nearly impossibly difficult it is to integrate as many elements as this piece succeeds in doing. It was the masterstroke of the incredibly gifted and resourceful team who put the show together to begin it with a lengthy dance sequence, which gives us the basic ingredients of the plot, and which manages to add to the atmosphere of aggression by its comparative formality. If you’re going to have dance as a constituent in an opera or musical, then the start is the place to have it, otherwise it is bound to seem like a divertissement.

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