Theatre review - West Side Story, Royal Exchange, Manchester

Andy Coxon (Tony) and Gabriela Garcia (Maria) in West Side Story. Picture: Richard Davenport

Andy Coxon (Tony) and Gabriela Garcia (Maria) in West Side Story. Picture: Richard Davenport - Credit: Archant

The Broadway classic comes to Manchester.

They’ve pushed the chairs back, or at least taken out the front row banquette seats, in order to give this greatest of musicals all the room it richly deserves.

Trying to contain it all within the cylindrical confines of the Royal Exchange might not have seemed the obvious location in the first place, but director Sarah Frankcom’s audacious move pays off handsomely and actually reveals several more facets to the show, rather than impinging on its scale.

Seen so up close and personal it’s very nearly a West Side Selfie, and if the intention was to introduce the sublime suite of music from Leonard Bernstein, and erudite lyrics of Stephen Sondheim, to new, younger audiences then it pays off handsomely. The added bonus is that such an intimate production also allows a fuller appreciation of the Arthur Laurents’ script.

The production also gives you a sense of the edginess and raw energy that must have accompanied the original Broadway performances in the late 50s, when many had doubted it would prosper.

Aletta Collins has devised a whole new choreography around the size and shape of the Exchange stage and while some will baulk at interfering with Jerome Robbins’ original concept it loses none of the potency and in such close-up often achieves a genuinely thrilling sense of risk, especially in the fight scenes.

In young Mexican actress Gabriela Garcia the production has found a pretty and witty Maria who can also capture all the muddle between adolescent love and young womanhood. Like many of the large cast of young performers she’s making her debut here, as well as a name for themselves. A Mexican flag, waved by supporters in the audience, turns into a virtual Mexican Wave as the audience rise for a standing ovation. A nice touch that the 10-strong band, contained in an off-stage compartment, also get to share in the rousing walk-on after the show’s finale.

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Don’t miss the opportunity to see it all for yourself.

West Side Story runs at the Royal Exchange until May 25.