West Side Story: A very big deal in America

West Side Story cast members Challyce Brogdon, Nicola Coats, Charlotte Baptie, Katie Singh, Sinéad Kenny and Djalenga Scott strike a pose.Picture: Brian McEvoy

WEST Side Story is a cornerstone of musical theatre. It is enduring: it opened on Broadway in 1957 and plays at the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre this week.

An interpretation of William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, the musical is set on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, where the Jets and the Sharks battle over territory .

The attractions of dance, singing, and acting set West Side Story apart. It is the ultimate role, say the two female leads — Katie Hall, who plays Maria, and Djalenga Scott, who plays Anita. Both from musical families, Hall and Scott have long wanted to be in the show.

The score of West Side Story is jam-packed with hits such as ‘Maria’, ‘Tonight’, ‘Somewhere’, ‘America’ and ‘I Feel Pretty’.

Scott delivers a fantastic Anita, giving the character humour, attitude and sass. “I’ve done lots of different musicals, like Joseph, Chicago, and Flashdance, but this has to be my favourite job so far. It gives me goosebumps to sing ‘America’ and to sing A Boy Like That’, with Katie.”

West Side Story deals with issues such as gang wars, racism, and murder. “Joey {McKneely) the director, was incredible,” says Scott. “He was pushing me to places that I might have been scared to go to a few years ago, but now I was ready to embrace it.

“In rehearsal, I was on the floor, like a mess, and he had to come over and bring me out of it like: ‘you’re not Anita anymore, get back to being Djalenga’.”

McKneely was a dancer in the 1957 line-up, which was directed and choreographed by Jerome Robbins, who conceived the show. McKneely later assisted Robbins, note-taking and documenting. McKneely is one of the major strengths of this production, as director and choreographer. He has remained true to Robbins’ vision of the musical, giving present-day audiences the authentic experience.

Assistant dance captain is Dublin native, Rachel Ensor, who dances in the show and leads the warm-up routines for dancers. This consists of 45 minutes of ballet, or stretches, before each show. West Side Story is renowned for the demands it makes of its dancers. It has a mix of classical and contemporary dance, which was groundbreaking in 1957, and remains a challenge for contemporary dancers.

“This show, for a dancer, is exceptional,” says Ensor. “You’re putting your body in completely different positions. For ‘Cool’, at the top of the show, the leg and body alignments are very turned in, and, obviously, with ballet, the opposite way we’re all turned out. But that’s so nice for a dancer — in one show we get to do really extreme styles of dancing. For me, it’s good and it’s a challenge to go ‘right, OK, for the ‘Cool’ it has to be strong and direct and have lots of focus’ and for the ballet you’re just having a wonderful time and you know you get to use all your techniques.”

West Side Story’s Dublin date is special for Ensor, who also plays Pauline, of the Jets. “I can’t wait. In the eight years I’ve been performing, I haven’t been to Dublin with a professional job, yet. So, I am very excited, as are my parents. It’s really nice, because I have friends in Ireland who haven’t seen me perform before and now they have no excuse.”

* At Bord Gáis Energy Theatre until Nov 9; Ticketmaster.ie


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