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Theatre Review (Singapore): ‘West Side Story’ by Base Entertainment

Base Entertainment returned in September to the Marina Bay Sands Theatre with West Side Story, the musical. The production ran from September 13th to 30th 2017.

Written and staged in 1957, West Side Story tells the tale of rival gangs – the Caucasian driven Jets and the Puerto Rican helmed Sharks – who battle each other regularly, sometimes even violently. However, things get complicated when a newly arrived Puerto Rican Maria (Natalie Ballenger) falls head over heels for Tony (Marc Koeck), who is a Jet member.

60 years later, the plot of this musical has lost its relevance. Although gang violence is still an issue in certain enclaves of the United States, intermarriage between whites and Hispanics have become more common over the last few decades, so the narrative loses authenticity in this modern world. Also, Maria and Tony falling for each at literally a drop of a note is a plot point that is rather contrived in 2017.

Having said that, the songs have withstood the test of time, and such classics as “Tonight”, “America”, “I Feel Pretty” and “Somewhere” still gets the toes tapping as the melodies are as striking as they were then. Ballenger, with her crystal clear and powerful voice, carries the range of notes effortlessly in all her songs, while Koeck also performs equally well in all of his numbers.

Another thing of note is that most musicals focus on the songs and the plot, with a little bit of dancing thrown in; however, West Side Story is one of those musicals with plenty of choreographed and energetic dance numbers. This critic wishes more dance was employed in musicals generally, as it provide give a fuller sensation of satisfaction for the audience. The dancers here worked the adrenalin dance items well, as they strutted and leaped in unison to both Western-Jazz and Afro-Cuban melodies.

Whilst West Side Story might have an outdated plot, the music, songs, singing, acting and dancing make West Side Story enthralling and captivating – 60 years on!

 

About Sharmila Melissa Yogalingam

Ex-professor, Ex-phd student, current freelance critic, writer and filmmaker.

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