WEST SIDE IN THE WEST MIDLANDS!
Think of mid-century musical theatre and you'd probably think of a tuneful slice of escapism, lavish sets and eye catching costumes... West Side Story's 1957 opening marked a significant departure from that formula and set a new template for the modern musical. Here, 55 years on, the musical sensation with music by Leonard Bernstein and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim is once again touring the UK as part of a major revival lead by an all-new energetic young cast, visiting the New Alexandra Theatre in Birmingham in April 2014.
After an incredible matinee performance in Wimbledon, I caught up with Louis Maskell (Tony) and Katie Hall (Maria) to talk about their time with the show so far:
LM "In the show, Tony is quite an individual, he started the Jets and then left the gang to pursue his dreams and aspirations - obviously in those times that's pretty hard to do. He's a fantastic part to play because he not only oozes this masculinity but he also gets to fall in love... and so quickly, which I think is rather rare these days, that sort of 'love at first sight' moment."
KH "I haven't had one day where I've come into work and thought 'oh God, I've got to sing those songs again...!' it's amazing, and the music is so lovely to sing. Bernstein just knows how to write for the voice, it just feels easy because it's been done so well. I really like I Have A Love, that sits nicely in my voice!"
LM "It took three very intense auditions to get the role, all of which were very lengthy and included lots of notes and workshopping of ideas. When I got the role, the rehearsals were even more so... actually though, that leant itself to the show which is like that and right from the off there was a sort of tension and an incredible passion, which Tony exudes. I love how sparse it all is too... this staging and production really lends itself to the dark and gritty story."
KH "I can definitely remember the rehearsal day where me and Louis weren't allowed in the room, they were doing the dance of the Jets and the Sharks and they have to have a fight that's full of racial abuse and the director made them scream at each other and then dance the Mambo and we weren't allowed to see what was going on because our characters aren't part of it and we could hear all of this screaming and were like 'whats going on!?' - scary, it was very method!"
Katie and Louis as Maria and Tony
LM "When creating my version of Tony, there are definitely certain elements of the part that are cemented - you can't just skip on wearing a clown nose... but as an actor I definitely wanted to install elements that I had instinctively. Every actor is different but for this there definitely is a blueprint but within that we were allowed scope to explore. I researched the whole 1950's and read this amazing book called Egyptian Kings about the gangs of New York and learnt a lot, these guys were kind of like those in the London riots a few years ago - these guys weren't bad but they just had to do something to get the attention of the higher powers."
KH "The role of Maria has been quite of a stretch for me... obviously you can see I'm a white blonde girl! She's far from what I'm like, I'm from Peterborough and that's quite far from Puerto Rico! We sat down with our director and just asked ourselves questions like 'What was it like in America at the time, who was there?' and it didn't matter if it wasn't true fact it just helped us to gain a broader knowledge of things. I didn't read books like Louis did..."
KH "I've just come out of a 16 month tour of The Phantom Of The Opera and now I'm back on the road, but before that I did the tour of Les Misérables so I've basically been on tour for the last three years of my life! I like being on the road, it's fine... but I sort of miss home sometimes. The atmosphere within a touring company though is nicer compared to doing a show in town (London), because you're living, travelling and working with one another all the time so the relationships are a lot closer and we're more like a family and I quite like that about it. They're a really good bunch of people and I love working with them!"
This fantastic production of West Side Story plays at the New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham for three weeks from 1 - 19 April 2014. Book tickets online here, in person at the Box Office or by calling 0844 871 3011. One not to be missed!
Photos by Alastair Muir.
Cast List: Louis Maskell, Katie Hall, Djalenga Scott, Javier Cid, Jack Wilcox, David Delve, Jason Griffiths, Siôn Tudor Owen, Matthew Hawksley, Fraser Fraser, Bruce Aguilar Rohan. Samuel Salter, Scott Rayner, Matthew Croke, Charlie Cameron, Rachel Crocker, Fenia Tsikitikou, Rachel Ensor, Danielle Cato, Niko Wirachman, Sergio Giacomelli, Sergi Terns, Devon McKenzie-Smith, Nathan Ryles, Liam Paul Jennings, Sinead Kenny, Charlotte Baptie, Katie Singh, Challyce Brogdon, Nicola Coates, Lisa Dent, Dom Hodson, Alex Pinder.