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Sunday, November 24, 2013


Outstanding festive season entertainment of an international standard. (Review by Keith Millar)

Bravo! The Playhouse Company. Bravo! Director Ralph Lawson and his entire creative team for producing festive season entertainment of an international standard.

The audience at the glittering premiere of West Side Story at the Playhouse Opera on Friday night were blown away at the sheer class of the production. To see the cream of South Africa’s young talent – with the help of a few veterans - perform with such consummate skill, enthusiasm and flair was both heart-warming and inspiring.

West Side Story is one of the most successful musicals of all time. It is a love story based on Shakespeare’s play Romeo and Juliet. The story is set in a west side neighbourhood of New York city in the mid 1950’s and explores the rivalry between two teenage street gangs of different ethnic backgrounds. The members of the Sharks are from Puerto Rico while the Jets are of Polish-American extraction.

Tony, the ex-leader of the Jets and Maria who is the sister of Bernardo, the leader of the Sharks, fall in love. Their love is ill-fated and amidst a turf war between the gangs comes to a tragic conclusion.

The musical’s rather dark theme contains messages about racial intolerance and ignorance which are as pertinent today as they were when it was written.

Included in the action are extended dance sequences which are very athletic and energetic, as well as wonderful music written by Leonard Bernstein with lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. Memorable songs such as Maria, Tonight, America, Somewhere, I Feel Pretty and I Have a Love are all from West Side Story.

The creative team for this production embarked on an extensive and exhaustive search to find the best of South Africa’s young performers. That their efforts have paid off is obvious from the outstanding performance of every single member of the large cast. A considerable achievement.

Maria is played by a young soprano from Cape Town, Ernestine Stuurman. She is blessed with the singing voice of an angel, and she creates an alluring and vulnerable Maria in a lovely performance. In the role of Tony is Clint Lesch who is also from the Western Cape. With a relatively small frame, he surprises with a singing voice of considerable power and with a beautiful tone. He has some difficult songs to perform yet he never missed a note.

Other leads were Jarryd Nurden (Riff), Nurit Graff (Anita), Sibu Radebe (Chino) and Reg Hart (Bernardo). Their performances could not be faulted.

A special mention as well for veteran Durban performer, Frank Graham. He plays the Doc, the owner of the Drugstore where the Jets hang out. He is the voice of moderation. Reason and common sense in the chaos of the gang rivalry. Graham was excellent as he played the role with heartfelt intensity.

The cherry on top for me was the presence of the full KZNPO in the orchestra pit. This distinguished orchestra put in a sublime performance from the opening overture and all the way through to the end of the musical. What a joy it was to hear live music rather than backtracks which seem to have become the norm.

The orchestra will be conducted alternatively by Lykele Temmingh and Naum Rousine.

The creative team’s contribution to the musical is considerable. Set and costume design are by Sarah Roberts. Her extensive and innovative sets are magnificent, and create a visually stunning backdrop for the action. Lighting is designed by Michael Broderick. The cityscapes and many set changes are all lit with sensitivity and skill. Trevor Peters is responsible for the sound design. His contribution deserves special mention as it is no easy task to multi-mic an extensive cast and then blend them perfectly with an full orchestra backing. The sound on Friday night was perfect.

Choreographer Christopher Kino has done a fantastic job. The extended dance sequences are quite brilliant. The gang confrontations and the full on rumble are of particular note.

All this creative input is pulled together the show’s director, theatre veteran Ralph Lawson.

With West Side Story, The Playhouse Company has presented an outstanding production to the public of Durban. Now, if only they could repair their theatre seating. Currently it is impossible to sit comfortably in the Opera for any length of time.

West Side Story is in my opinion a world class offering. If you only see one production this festive season, make it this one. It is not to be missed.

It is on at The Playhouse until December 29 and includes Saturday and Sunday matinees. Tickets range from R100 to R150, with concessions for students and pensioners. Bookings at Computicket or at Shoprite & Checkers money market counters. Block booking and show & function packages are also available at discounted rates and more information is available at – Keith Millar