West Side Story | The Production CompanyLeft – Anna O'Byrne and Gareth Keegan. Cover – Deone Zanotto and Shark Girls. Photos – Jeff Busby

The Production Company's 50th show opened on the weekend with a dramatic announcement: one of the leads was ill. In the world of the theatre, however, the show must, and indeed, did go on.

West Side Story, a Broadway classic, was suitably selected as the milestone production, and judging by the performance I saw, the Company has managed to deliver a wonderful show.

The story of doomed lovers Tony and Maria, based on Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, has been relocated to 50s New York, focusing on rival gangs the Sharks and the Jets. The issues of racial tension and class divides are as potent today as they were then.

Add to this Leonard Bernstein's timeless score with a book by Arthur Laurents and lyrics by a young Stephen Sondheim, and few more reasons are needed to revive this masterful work.

On the vast State Theatre stage, director Gale Edwards managed to bring the drama of the story to life with a disciplined and athletic company of talented performers. This production is given extra sparkle with some incredible choreography from Michael Ralph, inspired by the beautiful work originally created by Jerome Robbins. The dancing is highlighted in a number of extensive ballet sequences. The result is a production that delivers on almost every level.

The principal performers are generally very strong, with the standouts Anna O'Byrne (Maria), Gareth Keegan (Tony), and Adam Fiorentino as Bernardo.

As for the dramatic announcement: Deone Zanotto (Anita) was unfortunately unwell. However, in a bold decision, she was able to appear on stage performing the role, while Amanda Harrison sang the part and Natalie Gilhome spoke the words (both performing off-stage). [These supporting Anita's only had a day to prepare.]

In an almost flawless delivery, three amazing performers brought Anita to life. The ultimate triple threat! Deone Zanotto looked and danced the role to perfection. An amazing achievement.

Minor distractions though, included Tim Chappel's costume and colour choices. While the hispanic characters seemed to be dressed in appropriate 50s attire, the Jets and their girls looked as if they had stepped out of an 80s British pop video (the girls dressed in shorts with bare midriffs and the males in jeans and braces).

Also disappointing was the fact that our two supporting Anitas (Harrison and Gilhome) were not able to take a deserved bow at the curtain call along with the other company members. The audience would have loved to have had the opportunity to show their appreciation and admiration for what was a considerable achievement.

Shaun Gurton's design of steel fencing and scaffold bordering the action worked well, complemented by Trudy Dalgleish's mood lighting. Musical Director Guy Simpson managed yet another sterling job leading Orchestra Victoria.

This West Side Story is very much a triumph over adversity and a totally memorable production.

The Production Company presents
Based on a conception of Jerome Robbins | Book Arthur Laurents | Music Leonard Bernstein | Lyrics Stephen Sondheim

Director Gale Edwards

Venue: State Theatre | Arts Centre Melbourne
Dates: 11 – 19 July 2015
Tickets: from $21
Bookings: www.theproductioncompany.com.au

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