West Side Story | WAAPALeft – William Groucutt, Patrick Whitbread, Lyndon Watts, Miranda Macpherson, Suzie Melloy. Photo – Donna Ferreri

Given the ongoing popularity of the musical West Side Story, it’s hard to imagine that this collaboration between Leonard Berstein (composer), Stephen Sondheim (lyricist), Arthur Laurents (libretto) and Jerome Robbins (choreographer) underwent a number of set-backs before it finally came to fruition 10 years after its initial conception. When it did hit Broadway in 1957, it was met with positive reviews. Only four years later in 1961 the movie premiered and went on to win 10 academy awards including Best Picture.

Even today the Romeo & Juliet based musical, with its catchy musical numbers and themes of gang warfare, resonates with audiences. So it is little wonder that the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts (WAPPA) students embraced the project with such enthusiasm. 

Given the youthful age of the second and third year WAAPA performers, West Side Story was a good fit, but it is by no means an easy musical to perform. Even for a cast of professionals it requires performers to be a triple threat – they must sing, dance and act, and do all three with a high level of skill.

Going into the performance I wondered whether the WAAPA students could pull off such a demanding musical, but I have to admit that from the opening scenes my expectations were not only met, they were exceeded.

The opening was slick, the sets impressive, the lighting had impact and the performances were high energy and delivered with an enthusiasm that seeped its way into the laps of the appreciative audience.

The production continued to impress with bursts of colour and energy. Every part of the production was notable. The sets were cleverly designed with giant “steel” towers moving seamlessly into various positions, continually recreating the landscape for each new scene. I was impressed with the way the backstage crew moved these giant structures, blending into the performance and not distracting from it.

The WAAPA musicians were flawless and it took me a while to realize they were students and not professionals performing. Costumes were bright and colourful and the choreography was outstanding. I particularly enjoyed the dance scene in Act 1 which was a visual feast for the eyes.

The icing on the cake was the talented young performers who managed to sing, dance and act with flair under the creative direction of Crispin Taylor (director), Lisa O’Dea (choreographer) and David King (musical director).

Lyndon Watts as Bernardo, leader of the Sharks, was completely convincing and I wouldn’t be surprised to find out he had Latino blood. I loved the way Miranda Macpherson (Maria) and Suzie Melloy (Anita) worked so well together. Given the height differential it certainly did seem that Anita was the older, wiser, sisterly figure protecting over the naïve Maria. It was also a pleasure to listen to both of their singing performances.

Special mention must go to Suzie Melloy and Max Bimbi (A-Rab) for their captivating faces. They remained in character whether dancing, singing or acting and their personalities shone through and were a pleasure to watch. I couldn’t take my eyes off them waiting for Suzie’s next wink or twinkle at the audience or Max’s humorous expressions.

A good production will always move you in some way and I’m pleased to say that I had goosebumps not once, but about three times during the show. On top of that I managed to shed a few tears even though I knew the ending long before it arrived. Well done to WAPPA for a solid and enjoyable production.

Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts (WAPPA) presents
West Side Story
based on a conception of Jerome Robbins | book by Arthur Laurents | music by Leonard Berstein | lyrics by Stephen Sondheim

Director Crispin Taylor

Venue: Regal Theatre, cnr Rokeby Road and Hay Street, Subiaco
Dates: 7.30pm, 14 – 21 June, 2014.
Matinees: 2pm, Saturday 14 and 21 June.
Tickets: $66 – $59
Bookings: 1300 795 012 | ticketek.com.au

Most read Perth reviews

A small group of amateur actors, some professionals, no overarching theme for some ten minute...

To this critic, as to many Short+Sweet patrons, this programme of two peformances of 12...

Every one of the eleven short plays were excellent. Their very different topics and...