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Tuesday, November 12, 2013


When West Side Story opened in New York in 1957, it set new standards in musical theatre and it continues to be one of the most successful musicals produced to this day. This festive season it is once again being celebrated in a brand new production by the Playhouse Company, in the Opera Theatre from November 22 to December 29.

The story of two young people from conflicting cultural backgrounds, who meet, fall in love and are ultimately torn apart by racial intolerance and ignorance, is as pertinent as ever and provides much food for thought on the subject of prejudice and ultimate reconciliation.

Commenting on the choice of West Side Story, the Playhouse Company's Chief Executive and Artistic Director, Linda Bukhosini, said: “We are very excited to be staging this all-time classic which showcases the exceptional talent we have in our country. The cast comes from all over South Africa.”

The moving story unfolds to Leonard Bernstein’s dynamic score and the immortal songs, penned by lyricist Stephen Sondheim, include Tonight, Maria, America and Somewhere. The production will feature full orchestral accompaniment by Africa’s premier orchestra, the KZN Philharmonic.

“The Playhouse Company prides itself on the experience and expertise it has built up over the years to bring world class productions to Durban,’’ added Bukhosini. “This involves the appointment of a strong creative team to ensure the high standards are met from the first audition to the final curtain.”

South African director, Ralph Lawson, is well-known to audiences for his award-winning work both as an actor and a director. His career spans four decades, with landmark roles ranging from Shakespeare's Hamlet to Mozart in Shaffer's Amadeus and the Narrator in Sondheim's Into The Woods. Over the years, he has worked with most theatre managements, from The Market to Pieter Toerien Productions, the Baxter Theatre and Artscape, has taught widely and been active in drama development programmes in Cape Town and Durban. Lawson has enjoyed a long and illustrious association with The Playhouse having directed the musicals Annie and The Sound of Music, My Fair Lady (Mercury Durban Theatre Award – Best Director), Masterclass (Mercury Durban Theatre Award - Best Director) and most recently Cinderella (Mercury Durban Theatre Award – Best Director), where he followed his acclaimed performance as Prof. Higgins in My Fair Lady (Mercury Durban Theatre Award – Best Actor in a Musical) with an appearance in David Mamet's Race.

Speaking of the audition process, Lawson said: “West Side Story presents terrific challenges to the artists involved because the show demands dancing, singing and acting ability of the highest standard from every cast member. Every new version of the piece reproduces the choreography of the original New York production, the orchestral score requires classically trained singers and the dramatic story needs very convincing telling. So our auditions were strictly geared to finding all three disciplines rolled into one performer: acting, singing, dancing - the 'triple threat', as it's known in the business. The process took us to Durban, Johannesburg and Cape Town and we saw a lot of talented young people. Then began the sifting process, a short list, more auditions ... and I am now confident that we have the best cast we could have wished for.”

Cape Town based soprano Ernestine Stuurman and Clint Lesch, who recently appeared in Starlight Express at the Joburg Civic, star as Maria and Tony, the ‘star-crossed lovers’. With a host of musical, film and television credits and numerous Naledi Awards, Sibu Radebe plays Chino, Maria’s betrothed, and Reg Hart appears as the smouldering leader of the Sharks, Bernado.

The Jets’ leader, Riff, is played by born and raised Durbanite Jarryd Nurden and Nurit Graf, recently seen in Johannesburg, Cape Town and the Far East in DIRTY DANCING, stars as Anita. Others in the cast include local favourites Michael Gritten, Frank Graham, Mark Kay and Adam Doré.

Set and costume design is in the capable hands of Sarah Roberts who has worked in theatre for more than three decades designing for a variety of directors and choreographers, for which she has received much local and international acclaim, and numerous awards. Notable career achievements include designing the Broadway production of Sarafina! and Township Fever at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, in addition to works presented at numerous European and American theatre Festivals. Her attention to detail is seen in meticulous scale models and she is often seen, paint brush in hand, personally applying the finishing touches to her striking sets.

Christopher Kindo, as choreographer, takes on the responsibility of recreating Jerome Robbins breath taking and matchless choreography. Christopher has won various awards including the 1991 FNB Vita award for Best Male Dancer.

Completing the creative team is lighting designer, Michael Broderick, sound designer, Trevor Peters and musical director/répétiteur, Andrew Warburton. The KwaZulu-Natal Philharmonic Orchestra will be under the baton of Maestro Lykele Temmingh and Naum Rousine, alternating duties. The Playhouse Dance Residency dancers make up the bulk of the chorus line tasked with performing the high energy choreography.

West Side Story at The Playhouse comprises two previews on November 20 and 21, followed by 36 performances which include Saturday and Sunday matinees. Ticket prices range from R100 to R150, with concessions for students and pensioners. Bookings at Computicket. Block booking and show & function packages are also available at discounted rates and more information is available at

The South African production is made possible by special arrangement with DALRO.