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West Side Story

West Side Story

Gee, Office Krupke!

I went to see the revival of West Side Story last night. And I realised how old I am when I knew every word of Officer Krupke. It was fifty years ago when the soundtrack of West Side Story was one of the first LPs I bought from one of my first pay cheques. The first was Ray Conniff’s Broadway in Rhythm. I go back all those decades just to prove that this wonderful musical, which opened on Broadway in 1957, has not dated.

And the current revival at The Regent theatre is a singing and dancing gem. It just shows you how avant garde  youngsters like Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim and choreographer Jerome Robbins really were.

Sondheim was in his twenties when he wrote the lyrics for West Side Story  and fifty years ago they were pretty raunchy. ‘My sister wears a moustache, my brother wears a dress. Goodness, gracious, that’s why I’m a mess.’ They were singing about a fella with a social disease when we didn’t even know what it was.

I remember when I first heard the line: ‘Gee Officer Krupke… Krup You!’ I was gobsmacked or whatever the term was back then. You dig?

It was a weird time to go to an opening night of a musical about a couple of gangs fighting for a little bit of turf in Manhattan. Many of us had spent most of the past 24 hours glued to TV sets watching a couple of gangs fighting over a little bit of turf in Canberra.

The allegory of the Sharks and the Jets and the Libs and Labor was not lost. Neither was the blood-letting.

Indicatively, and encouragingly, this revival of the modern day take on Romeo and Juliet  has a cast of  young unknowns. But only for now. Josh Piterman who plays the lead role of Tony only graduated from  Ballarat University’s Arts Academy in 2006.  His voice will give you goose bumps… bring tears to your eyes. Julie Goodwin, plays his innocent Puerto Rican love Maria, in the doomed Shakespearean tragedy. And she does it well. For Julie this is only her second professional appearance.

Alinta Chidzey has the plum tarty role of Anita – I like to be in America! Big boots to fill in a role made famous by Chita Rivera and Rita Moreno and she does them proud.

But it is the dancing that has the Wow! Factor. This troupe of youngsters is  fantastic. I was talking to Jacki Weaver and Kate Ceberano at the show. Both agreed:  TV shows like So, You Think You Can Dance?  have raised the bar in this country. And it shows. It’s a pity this is such a short run  to display all that talent.

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