(Luke Jennings’s article appeared in the Guardian, 9/7.)
West Side Story at Sadler's Wells: 'formidably impressive'.
On the opening night of West Side Story in 1957, US supreme court justice Felix Frankfurter collared the composer Leonard Bernstein. "The history of America is now changed," he told him, weeping with emotion. And if Frankfurter's reaction was exaggerated, Jerome Robbins's gangland take on Romeo and Juliet certainly changed the history of musical theatre. The famous opening scene, with the Polish-American Jets and the Puerto Rican Sharks prowling the parched New York cityscape, has been endlessly copied but never equalled.
No matter how many times you watch it, Robbins's choreography hooks you. The finger snaps lay down the challenge; the nervy, low-slung glissades and skittering step-ball-changes confirm the sense of danger. And then that edgy, anxious clarinet ushers in the big theme and Bernardo and his lieutenants swing into those iconic side-kicks, chests forward and arms thrust skywards in a fatalistic statement of the street fighter's code of honour.