Had she one bullet left and they played the show in reverse, I would have taken that bullet to save myself from two and a half hours of torture. How a work of such magnitude, one which deals with the pertinent issue of race relations in America could loose its edge, at a time when Donald Trump is president, a gob-smacking revelation. Whoever was responsible for this remount of West Side Story needs to be smacked down hard.
The curtain rises, the lights come up on stage and the show begins with promise, because, hell, it is West Side Story, after all, but, from the get go, there are issues. If you are going to see this work – wear sunglasses because, whoever designed the lighting, has done so in way that performers appear as no more than white blurs on stage. Was this a deliberate choice at the 11th hour to disguise the quagmire of shite that’s been served up? In this barren waste land of mediocrity, there is no way or nowhere to hide. Casting is so wrong; the two leads, share no chemistry, it’s like two wet fish gasping for breath trying to procreate out of water. In extension to this, even the choreographic fight scenes look more like a group of toads fornicating on heat.
All the life has been sucked out of the original score, the only song to remain lingering post performance is America, arguably the highlight of the original work. Though in this re-staging, the only reason for the song to remain is due it being reduced to level caricatured musicality you find in the Chipmunks franchise; but, at least, you could sit through these films without wanting to claw your eyes out.
The creative team should also go back to the drawing board, whip out a dictionary and look up what ‘art direction’ means, because there is simply none present; it’s a mishmash of unconnected lighting states, basic projections, there is no visual continuity anywhere.
Though the real issues here are far bigger than the stage. Because, there is nothing wrong with remounts per-se, but if you’re going to do one, do it well- exacting to the very measures of the original work, or dream bigger and intensify, take responsibility and start conversations with audiences like only a main stage company can, or get out of the way.
The story, central to this work, at its very essence is a tragedy with themes that course through it, that resonate now more than ever, not just in relation to Trump, but in the closing of borders, in the constant other-ing of immigrants, in gun violence, in the kind of society in which we all now live.
This production stands to represent the pinnacle of Australian arts, I say this in regards to the amount of money that is continually poured into the Opera Australia’s coffers by our major funding bodies. This, in a time when those working in the independent, and small to medium arts sectors – (those inciting of real conversation and bold thinking) – have begun to feel the pinch from funding cuts that were handed down a couple of years back. In West Side Story, we can see where all this funding has gone, and it is nothing short of an outrage. It is an insult to Australian audiences, artists, and to the very cultural fabric of this country.