Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Things Your Mother Never Told You *

It's about time I got back to blogging and I can think of no better thing to blog about than the 50th anniversary production of West Side Story, which JJ and I went to see at Sadlers Wells last Thursday.

I am certainly no expert on musical drama, dance or anything really but ... stunning is the word for this one. Yes, we all know the story - gang warfare, love across a cultural and racial divide, teenage alienation, turf wars, racism, poverty, a fear and hatred of outsiders. Yes, as I say, a story we all know, but ... it's done so well, the musical is beautiful, the lyrics mind-blowing, the choreography mesmeric, the social message so strong (but not over-bearing) and a mixture which comes together so perfectly (well, with one very slight flaw, in my opinion).

So those are the elements which those of us like me are well familiar with from watching the film throughout our many years. But I certainly didn't think I would be seeing such an amazing production as that put on during this limited season at Sadlers Wells. The music was perfect, but certainly not in any shallow and clinical way - it was pounding, it was soaring and it was highly emotional. The cast belted the songs out in cracking form - to say nothing of the quality acting. And, as for the dancing, well, as others have remarked about West Side Story, it was in many ways unique in the way the beat and rhythm (are they the same thing?) are so unlike anything that was being danced to up until it was opened in 1958. One writer (Martin Samuel in the Times - brilliant piece, btw, which I should really link to) compared it to his contemporaries in the '70s pretending they could dance to Jethro Tull, believe it or not. But, anyway, the movement of those at Sadlers Wells was pretty outstanding. Whether the fight scenes, the gym dance scene, the Puerto Rican women doing America or any other scene, we had grace and beauty moving around the stage, with what seemed to this totally amateur eye as perfection.

So what was this flaw that grated on my mind? The Officer Kruppke song! I was of the belief that this production messed around with the running order of the songs, as this very comic turn comes shortly after Riff and Bernardo are killed in the rumble. My view, based on what I remembered of the film, was that this appeared earlier in story. I thought this as I just couldn't get my head around the fact that a bunch of teenage lads would be in the mood for messing about when their gang leader had just been stabbed to death. They would have been shitting themselves, no matter how much of a bravado front they wished to put on. So a bit of research - and JJ seeing the film at the weekend - confirmed that, indeed, this silly song comes much earlier in the film, but, in fact, in the original stage production, it was in the same order as the Sadlers Wells show. A strange thing for Robbins, Bernstein and Sondheim to have done, but, hey, they are still a collection of geniuses.

Fuck, sorry for going on there, but it just sort of played on my mind a bit.

Anyway, it in no way spoiled things as this was way up there with the greatest spectacles - musical or otherwise - that I've ever seen on a stage. I've been cranking my brains since last Thursday to come up with something better and I just can't get there. I loved Brigadoon, which was the first major show I ever went to see on a London stage. A production of Madam Butterfly at the Royal Albert Hall was beautiful. The Play Wot I Wrote - with Ranulph Fiennes making the guest appearance that night - was one of the funniest things I've ever seen. But ...

Perfect music, perfect ensemble acting and dancing, beautiful lyrics and singing. This was all anyone could ask for. Perfect!

* Wayne County and the Electric Chairs



Blogger J.J said...

Thanks again for getting those tickets. It was an utterly amazing show.

1:08 pm  
Blogger timesnewroman said...

"Dance to" and Jethro Tull in the same sentence. Absolutely hilarious. Class. Glad you both enjoyed the show. Maybe next time in London we should done of those thingys. Trouble is, no matter how good it is, I am no fan of musical theatre.

2:59 pm  

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