West Side Story, by Arthur Laurents, Leonard Bernstein & Stephen Sondheim | Directed by Chapin Ayres

Chatswood Musical Society (http://chatswoodmusicalsociety.org) | Zenith Theatre, Chatswood | Until 21 November

The story of this musical, I am sure, is familiar to most Baby Boomers. Two gangs, the Puerto Rican Sharks and the working-class Anglo American Jets, fight for urban domination of the Upper West Side of New York, beset at the time by social issues such as gang violence and racism.

The musical was first staged on Broadway in 1957, but since then much of the area portrayed on stage has been demolished and gentrified, and the iconic Lincoln Centre, home of Dance, Drama and Opera, is now housed there.

Chapin Ayres’s intelligent direction retains all the poignant resonance and the dark moments of social commentary that illuminated teenage disaffection and racism in the 1950s. At the same time she joyfully celebrates the energy and excitement of the big musical numbers.

The two star-crossed lovers, Tony (Anthony Levin) and Maria (Michaela Leisk), are totally convincingly portrayed, with an on-stage chemistry that is clearly evident.

They are ably supported by a most capable cast that includes memorable performances from Susana Downes as the sensuous Anita, sizzling in her interpretation of America. And confirming the truism that there are no small parts only small actors, Melody Ha impresses as Anybodys, competently bringing to to life the economically written minor character.

But stealing the show is Michaela Leisk. She is at all times a credible Maria and her operatic pitch delivers perfectly the familiar and classic songs I Feel Pretty and Somewhere.

Indeed the entire cast and crew need to be congratulated on their enthusiasm and commitment as they serve up an ambitious cocktail of musical theatre.

The orchestra, under the direction of Kane Wheatley, never miss a beat, whilst Brad Jhaye’s flexible set design solves many of the limitations of stage space at Chatswood. Normally performed on a large stage because of the expansive dance number, Stephanie Edmonds’s comprehensive choreography tailors the dances without losing any of the show’s spectacle. Her dancers perform all the challenging choreographed numbers with poise and panache.

West Side Story appears as relevant and entertaining today as it did back in the 1950s thanks to its Montague and Capulet undertones, Stephen Sondheim’s witty lyrics, the brilliance of Leonard Bernstein’s score and Jerome Robbins’s cutting-edge ballet and Latin-inspired choreography.

This is quality musical theatre. Well done Chatswood Musical Society.

Thumbs up!