Opera House, Wellington

07/06/2019 - 16/06/2019

Production Details


Wellington Opera House 6 – 16 June
Tickets from Ticketmaster

A modern retelling of Romeo and Juliet; this tragic love story tells the tale of two young people whose happiness is destroyed by the hate of two enemy camps in New York City’s urban jungle. The ‘Jets’, sons of previous immigrants to America, battle the new arrivals from Puerto Rico, the ‘Sharks’, for domination of the streets.

Following rave reviews in Australia, the Opera Australia, GWB Entertainment and BB Group production comes to Wellington ahead of its international tour of Germany and season at Sydney Opera House.

GWB Entertainment’s Torben Brookman said “Musicals like West Side Story only come along once in a lifetime. This piece transformed musical theatre around the world and is as relevant today as it was when first staged. It is a privilege to bring this internationally acclaimed production to Wellington audiences.”

WEST SIDE STORY will explode on to the Opera House stage with a feast of colour, hundreds of costumes, some of the greatest dance routines ever created and an unforgettable songbook including the ageless hitsI Feel Pretty, Maria and Tonight.

The Opera House
6 – 16 June
Tickets: Ticketmaster
 For more information, go to www.westsidestory.com.au
@WestSideStoryAU #WestSideStoryAU  

‘Seeing this musical is to witness a slice of pop culture dance and musical theatre history’ THEPLUSONES.COM

As a theatrical event WEST SIDE STORY has dazzled since 1957 not just because of its artistic mastery but because of its universal message of tolerance. When written by geniuses Leonard Bernstein, Arthur Laurents, Stephen Sondheim and Jerome Robbins, musical theatre changed forever as the most complex and challenging unity of music, dance, book and lyrics was realised in a way which has been rarely matched since.

Orchestration will be played live by New Zealand’s own Orchestra Wellington under the direction of Maestro Donald Chan – the esteemed American musical supervisor – who has conducted more than 3000 performances of WEST SIDE STORY, more than any other conductor.

The cast of 34 features a dynamic mix of international performers under the direction of famed Broadway choreographer, Joey McKneelytwo-time Tony Award nominated choreographer whose Broadway credits include Smokey Joe’s Café, The Life, Twelfth Night, The Wild Party and The Boy From Oz. 

The principal roles of star-crossed lovers Maria and Tony are played by opera star Sophie Salvesani and one of musical theatre’s newest leading men, Todd Jacobsson; a finalist for the 2018 Rob Guest Endowment Award.

In the role of the dynamic Anita is Chloe Zuel who joined the tour fresh from the Carole King musical Beautiful and having previously starred as Reno in Dusty. Playing her partner Bernardo, leader of The Sharks, is Lyndon Watts who’s most recently been touring with Disney’s Aladdin.

Stage veteranDean Vince (Dirty Dancing, Priscilla Queen of the Desert the musical, King Kong) plays Officer Krupke; while his superior Lt Schrank is played Neighbours veteran Paul Dawber. Joining them is Ritchie Singer as Doc and Paul Hanlon as Glad Hand.

As “The Jets” the ensemble will include Joshua Taylor, Nicholas Collins, Christian Ambesi, Nathan Pavey, New Zealand’s own Blake Tuke, Sebastien Golenko, Molly Bugeja, Joseph Donovan with Natasha O’Hehir, Angelica Di Clemente, Taylah Small and Sarah Dimas.

Completing the cast as “The Sharks” will be Anthony Garcia, Keanu Gonzalez, Daniel Assetta, Matt Antonucci, much-loved Kiwi triple threat Jason Yang-Westland, Brady Kitchingham, Daniel Wijngaarden with Zoe Ioannou, Olivia Carniato, Nikki Croker, Amba Fewster and Ariana Mazzeo.

CAST: https://westsidestory.com.au/cast/

Set Designer Paul Gallis
Costume Designer Renate Schmitzer
Make-up Designer Hannelore Uhrmacher
Sound Designer Matt Grounds
Lighting Designer Peter Halbsgut 

‘Lights up the stage with passion, drama and brilliant orchestrations’ HERALD-SUN

‘Indestructible entertainment’ THE AGE

‘You will laugh, you will cry and you will be taken along the incomparable journey’ THEATREPEOPLE.COM

‘This production will blow your mind’ BROADWAYWORLD.COM

‘Run, don’t walk (or mambo, for that matter) to see this show’ AUSSIETHEATRE.COM.AU 

‘The timeless musical Australia needs right now’ E NEWS 

Theatre , Musical ,

Moving and amazing

Review by John Anderson and Jo Hodgson 09th Jun 2019

The elevator pitch for West Side Story is it’s Romeo and Juliet moved to New York city. Rich families exchanged for delinquent gangs in fifties New York.  

We’re here with utterly different experiences, I’ve only seen a thousand references, memes and pastiches but this musical has been part of Jo’s life since the 70s: many hours of listening, practising clicking fingers, mimicking Maria’s soaring aria’s and swishing skirts like Anita, all the while poring over the film pictures on the record cover.

With the legendary core creative team from the original 1957 show of Jerome Robbins, Leonard Bernstein, Arthur Laurents and Stephen Sondheim, it is no wonder that having read the reviews from that time, they still feel relevant to my experience right now with Opera Australia. This production proves that West Side Story is a true lasting work of art.

Going in to the show I am concerned that this might in some way be stylised historical re-enactment as it can be a danger to too slavishly follow what has gone before, but the script that was forged over four years by a musical dream team has lasted the test of time. This is a take on star-crossed lovers set firmly in its era. I find it hard to imagine how you could mess with this by modernising it or transplanting it to another locale.

While the story pivots around the characters of Tony (Romeo) and Maria (Juliet), this piece is at its heart an ensemble piece, a multi character-filled story with every piece of the puzzle essential in its telling.

I imagine it would have been radical to a 1957 audience to hear Puerto Rican women speak about their experiences, even if they were written by a men. However to a modern audience there are moments, though, with the women of Jets so ably played, where the script simply doesn’t support telling what their stories might have been. Some will be left wondering whether a creative team in 2019 could have found ways to express this rather than just make their skirts shorter. 

In this production, many of the performers are debuting in their first professional gig and the youth and agility amongst the more experienced and veteran actors makes for a perfectly believable experience.

Even after sixty years this is accessible but not comfortable theatre. For me it’s a one-two punch to the jaw. Its sex, death and stunning dancing, but also at its core it is about youth violence and tragic waste.  

If you are still reading, here are a few quick reasons why we think you should go:

If you were in two minds whether to go out in a cutting southerly and rain you need to make the trip.

The star-crossed lovers Tony (Todd Jacobson) and Maria (Sylvia Salvesani) are by turns sweet and sensual as they play out a love that’s too beautiful and frankly stupid to survive reality. Their voices lift the cast and the show.

Chloe Zuel’s portrayal of Anita is superlative. Many stars shine, but this performance burns poignantly and gloriously. It is a privilege to watch her seated amongst such a significant production.

The show overflows with lively dialogue and driving lyrics that adds rich depth to the world of the gangs, the Jets and the Sharks. With complex social commentary, there is no place to sit comfortably in this social carnage and we are swept up in the ensuing and unavoidable train-wreck which is so stunningly artistic and palpable in its reveal.

Peter Halbsgut’s dynamic lighting and Paul Gallis’ imposing city street-scape set design pushes everything to the next level in this slick production. The show flows and drives along with seamless set changes taking us from the streets, to the iconic balcony scene with ease. The colour palette is echoed in Renate Schmitzer’s excellent costuming, representing time and culture.

You get sizzling choreography with a cast that knows how to rock, samba and groove, (but is also based in a very balletic foundation) and can tell stories and moments with movement and their bodies.

Orchestra Wellington led by Donald Chan nails this historic and action-packed Bernstein score. You’re in for a musical treat.

West Side Story is from an era where the older style of musical was transitioning with the influences of the day, so whether you are an operatic style fan or a musical theatre fan, this show has something for everyone.

As the ecstatic eruption of applause ends in the Wellington State Opera House, Jo is left feeling moved and amazed at the ability of this production to stay true to its period but with subtle nuance and the depth of character direction from director/ choreographer Joey McKneely, this production has been brought artistically to 2019 and addresses many of societies issues still being faced today.

I’m also left angry that I don’t know the name or why a young man was stabbed to death on Thursday the 9th of May 2019 just before 6pm on the west side of the city I love. Why have we still not learned to teach young men what this Opera Australia’s production so powerfully underlines – that human life is precious, and human bodies are capable of such strength and beauty, but can be just so fragile. What can we do to stem this? All I know is that prison is not the answer and I want change in Aotearoa.

I am now desperately anticipating Taki Rua’s upcoming production Cellfish in the Kia Mau festival. It will take you to the national shame of our prison system and lever it open with Shakespeare. You should see both.


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