West Side Story (Prom 39), Royal Albert Hall | Review

Monday 13 August 2018

Prom 39: West Side Story (BBC Proms) 
Royal Albert Hall 
Reviewed on Saturday 11th August 2018 by Olivia Mitchell 

At 61 years old, West Side Story remains one of the most well-loved and socially relevant musicals. Following the rivalry between the Jets and the Sharks and a forbidden love between Maria and Tony, it's a beautiful and heartbreaking story about the strength of love. The score was performed by a wonderful cast and the outstanding John Wilson Orchestra, but the omission of the majority of the text did dim the impact slightly. Following the narrative was a little difficult and some of the key characters were sidelined without their text but it was still a stunning performance.

The concert provided a reminder of the phenomenal way Bernstein contrasts musical styles and completely makes his own rules as he combines classical and contemporary music with exceptional effect. Tricky time signatures, scotch-snap rhythms, syncopation and chromatic notes are just some aspects which were played so wonderfully by the John Wilson Orchestra which Wilson conducted himself. The intensity and passion which they played with transferred to the audience and created some magical moments.

Our leads, Tony and Maria were played by the exceptionally talented Ross Lekites and Mikaela Bennett. Mikaela portrayed Maria's excited, fresh love with humour and warmth before bringing her heartbreak to life with honest pain. She was also vocally stunning with her pure operatic sound providing power which drew you to the character and worked wonderfully alongside Lekites' smooth, strong voice that flowed with flawless abandon.

Louise Alder performed Somewhere in a hauntingly beautiful way and was a certain highlight of the night. Eden Espinosa was vocally and physically fiery as Anita and gave a truly memorable performance of America alongside the vocally stunning Emma Kingston. Leo Roberts' Riff was notably strong, especially during his performance of Cool.  

The ensemble brought the two gangs to life, with Alistair Brammer, Jocasta Almgill and Michael Coulbourne standing out. The ArtsEd ensemble and Mountview choir added extra oomph, especially during their brief interactions with the performers on stage.

From the rapturous applause it was clear that Bernstein's score, performed by a stellar cast is a surefire way to entertain an audience. West Side Story is a beauty and it was truly glorious to see it performed in this well-rounded Proms version. 

The BBC Proms continue until 8th September 2018

photo credit: Chris Christodolou