Monday June 17, 2024
WEST SIDE STORY ON SYDNEY HARBOUR
Review

WEST SIDE STORY ON SYDNEY HARBOUR

By Felicity Dayhew
April 13 2024

FORMER JUNIOR REVIEWER FELICITY DAYHEW REPORTS FROM A GLORIOUS NIGHT OUT ON THE HARBOUR...

WEST SIDE STORY, Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour, Opera Australia at Mrs Macquarie's Point. 22 March-22 April 2024. Photography by Keith Saunders

It’s a classic story – boy meets girl at a dance, boy is the pseudo-leader of a gang, girl’s brother is also head of another gang that, uh oh, happens to be their main rival. The 1950s-ified Romeo and Juliet is a tragic story, refashioning Shakespeare’s Montagues and Capulets to Stephen Sondheim’s Puerto Ricans and supposed “All-Americans”, and transplanting fair Verona to Manhattan’s Upper West Side.

A story of forbidden love is one that always tugs on the heartstrings, and Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour’s 2024 production of West Side Story is no exception.

As someone who had been woefully ignorant of the musical theatre classic that is West Side Story, I was given quite the introduction: to see it for the first time afloat on a huge open-air stage with a dramatic backdrop of Sydney harbour and the city skyline.

WEST SIDE STORY ON SYDNEY HARBOUR

Despite fears of chilling winds, Mrs Macquarie’s Point remained pleasantly cool and sheltered – and we only had a little bit of flooding down by the water's edge, thanks to a very high tide. It added to the drama with the ocean creeping slowly up and past the sandstone harbour wall as Maria and Tony’s (Nina Korbe and Billy Bourchier) love story crept closer to potential tragedy.

Throughout the evening, the very talented cast danced seemingly effortlessly back and forth on an impressive angled stage. The urban playground – designed by Brian Thomson – splits its colour scheme in half, with the Jets’ blues graffitied on one side, covering the back of Doc’s Drug Store, and the Sharks’ red on the other, snaking up the walls of Maria’s apartment block alongside a very princess-like fire escape.

It paints an effective picture of the brutal metropolitan arena that ends up breeding a much gentler romance – though a romance made trickier to navigate by incensed young people and the possibly fatal rivalry between them.

Director Francesca Zambello (now well-versed in the art of Opera on the Harbour) staged the production with the knowledge and familiarity of someone who knows how to use the unique space to its utmost potential. Despite the “dramatic backdrop”, it isn’t difficult to forget Sydney and the harbour altogether and get sucked into a world of gritty New York streets and lively musical numbers.

WEST SIDE STORY ON SYDNEY HARBOUR

The vocals are stunning, particularly Nina Korbe, as well as Kimberley Hodgson as Anita – balancing the line between musical theatre and opera, and are accompanied by an equally lively orchestra, tucked away completely under the stage, conducted by Guy Simpson.

Traipsing down to the Botanical Gardens an hour or so before the performance begins makes for an enjoyable evening, with multiple dinner options available on-site, and some very scenic places to watch the dusk settle into night-time before you make your way to your seats. All in all, it makes for a gorgeous evening for the whole family.

 

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