Sunday, March 3, 2013

West Side Story

Free-Rain Theatre Company
The Q
Season closed
Reviewed by Samara Purnell

West Side story opened to frantic dialogue delivered at such pace and with accents which seemed to range all over Australia and America. This meant that chunks of dialogue were missed, but luckily they were not essential to the plot, and also improved dramatically later in the performance.

The leads were fantastic – Lachlan Whan as Tony has a warm, pleasant voice and a likeable stage presence. His voice sounded a little hoarse, perhaps week three of performance taking its toll. A little more confidence will also help his performance, as he seemed more at ease and “stronger” when performing duets. Once he really nails it, the audience will be allowed to relax into his singing, and enjoy his lovely falsetto and lilting vibrato.

As Maria - verging on womanhood and eager to experience life and romance, Nicola Hall was practically perfect for the role. She embodied the right combination of petulance and innocence. Hall has a wonderfully pretty and pure voice and also performed with a convincing Puerto Rican accent, sustained throughout her singing. Even during long periods of earnest gazing at Tony, she was truly captivating and you found yourself really rooting for the couple, despite knowing that their Romeo and Juliet romance is fraught with everything but a happy ending. The couple’s rendition of One Heart was moving and tender and their voices blended beautifully.

Amy Dunham was particularly impressive as Anita and completely convincing as she pleaded with Maria during their duet, A boy like that. Her flirtatious interactions with Bernardo (Jordan Kelly) were lots of fun. It is always good to see a strong singer who can also act, as Dunham can, providing fun and laughs all round in her rendition of America.

Riff, played by Zach Drury, snarled his way through a good performance as leader of the Jets. His singing was at times a little flat yet he had a good physicality in this role that drew the eye to him during ensemble pieces.

Well choreographed nuances added credibility to ensemble scenes and choreographer Lisa Buckley has successfully replicated a crowded dance hall with a blend of styles from latin to rock n roll. The rumble was well choreographed and executed between a very sleek looking Puerto Rican Sharks outfit and the American Jets.  

It would have been nice to see Somewhere danced with just the strongest dancers and really showcase them. Also because some of the pairings looked awkward and in faster numbers many of the girls didn't look completely relaxed and some of the timing (both male and female) was right out.

Somewhere, possibly the signature song from West Side Story, was brilliantly sung by Linda Gledhill, Sarah-Darnley Stuart and Max Gambale, who oversaw the Jets and Sharks dancing together in a dream-like sequence, with Tony and Maria in the middle. To perform it this way was a bold decision that begged the question “Why?” But it worked. And very well indeed.

Some of the ensemble struggled to give rounded performances as singers/dancers/actors, but as a group the boys really hit their straps with Gee, Officer Krupke and it would have been good to see that level of polish from the boys for the entire show.

The set needed a little more to it, as bare scaffolding sets might work in the Musical “Rent”, but here it didn't quite, and at times it made the dance space a bit tight.

Musical director John Yoon and conductor Major Geoff Grey endeavoured to maintain the integrity of Bernstein’s original score and the orchestra sounded great.

Maria was left standing in her bra and petticoat for so long in the opening scenes of Act Two, including during an interview with Detective Shrank which was both distracting and unrealistic. That said, the entire second act of this production was incredibly tense, dramatic and emotional, leaving many an audience member teary eyed.

Free-Rain’s West Side Story is a credit to the acting and singing of the cast and to Director Anne Somes, who has produced a high quality and thoroughly enjoyable show. 

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