West Side Story

From 22 July 2008, Closed 31 August 2008 at the Sadler's Wells Theatre
Returned 7 August 2013, Closed 22 September 2013 at the Sadler's Well Theatre

Joey McKneely's vibrant stage production of the classic dance musical West Side Story in London for a strictly limited Summer season - the return of the production originally seen at Sadler's Wells Theatre in 2008.

With groundbreaking choreography by the legendary Jerome Robbins, book by Arthur Laurents, an unforgettable score by Leonard Bernstein and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, West Side Story changed the face of musical theatre for ever. Based on Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet and packed with unforgettable songs including Maria, Tonight, Somewhere, America and I Feel Pretty, West Side Story cemented it's reputation as a masterpiece when the movie version went on to win an incredible 10 Academy Awards - including Best Picture.

Joey McKneely's vibrant stage production of this classic dance musical features Robbins' original choreography, as fresh as it has ever been, and an excellent cast renowned for their stunning energy and technical brilliance. Celebrated conductor and composer Donald Chan leads the live orchestra to play Bernstein's iconic score.

Stephen Sondheim's musicals include Pacific Overtures, Merrily We Roll Along, Into the Woods, A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum, Gypsy, Saturday Night, Sunday in the Park with George, Sweeney Todd, A Little Night Music and the musical compilation Side by Side by Sondheim.

When West Side Story made its debut in 1957, its creators knew they were creating a musical for their time. A retelling of Romeo and Juliet filtered through the gang warfare of New York's slums, their landmark collaboration tapped into the dangerous energy of Manhattan's mean streets. How extraordinary, then, to find it speaking to us so profoundly today... Joey McKneely's production is an authentic period piece, but driven by strong emotions that know no time or place. Paul Gallis designs a stage dominated by huge tenement fire escapes that, ironically, suggest escape when in fact there would seem no such possibility for a cast trapped in the claustrophobic underbelly of the urban jungle... West Side Story is Broadway's greatest dance musical and Robbins's choreography is at its heart, with so much of the plot's intention and focus revealed through the acerbic and edgy movement. Its brawling, pugilistic momentum, which leads inexorably to gang rape and murder, is delivered with an almost military precision, while Robbins's dream ballet offers a stunning contrast with its halcyon vision of happiness for Tony and Maria." The Times

"After a mixed reception in America on its debut in 1957, Jerome Robbins and Leonard Bernstein's dance musical opened in London a year later. The British critics had no such doubts and recognised the groundbreaking production for what it was: a bona-fide classic, one of the most extraordinary pieces of musical theatre ever created. Fifty years on, it still shines like a diamond in a sea of rhinestones. How many current musicals clogging up the West End stages can boast a catalogue of songs that include, Maria, Tonight, America, I Feel Pretty or (Somewhere) A Place For Us to name fewer than half its songs? This 50th-anniversary touring production directed by Joey McKneely lands on the stage of Sadler's Wells with a stunning international cast and a truly inspired orchestra, led by Donald Chan. For those who have only ever seen the movie version, it is an absolute must... The terrific lyrics by Stephen Sondheim intelligently combine the street slang of the Fifties with the concerns of society at large - especially in the brazen wit of Gee, Officer Krupke - one of the funniest songs about juvenile delinquency ever written." The Daily Express

The choreographer Joey McKneely says "To me, it is not West Side Story without the Jerome Robbins choreography. There have been versions where it has been done a bit differently. A German company did a production where the set looked like the ruins of the Twin Towers and the choreography became an apocalyptic thing. That's not the same to me. I love West Side Story and I feel a certain responsibility to pass this great show on to the next generation. It changed my life when I was introduced to it." McKneely worked with West Side Story's original choreographer, Jerome Robbins, in 1989. For the six months they worked together in Jerome Robbins' Broadway and he studied Robbins intensely, discovering the reasoning, iron will and discipline behind the dance steps. In 2000, he was invited to direct West Side Story for La Scala. His Broadway credits include providing the choreography for The Boy From Oz starring Hugh Jackman and the Cy Coleman and Ira Gasman musical This Life, the musical staging for the Leiber and Stoller musical Smokey Joe's Cafe and the choreography, based on the original by Jerome Robbins, for the 2009 bi-lingual revival of West Side Story.

The 50th Anniversary Producton of West Side Story, staged by Joey McKneely featuring Robbins' original choreography was seen at the Sadler's Wells Theatre from 22 July to 31 August 2008 prior to a major UK regional tour.

West Side Story in London at Sadler's Well Theatre from 7 August to 22 September 2013.


West Side Story 1998 to 2000
Previewed 1 October, Opened 6 October 1998, Closed 9 January 1999 at the Prince Edward Theatre in London
Transferred from 22 January 1999, closed 8 January 2000 at the
Prince of Wales Theatre in London

The legendary stage musical West Side Story in London directed and choreographed by Jerome Robbins, reproduced by Alan Johnson.

With groundbreaking choreography by the legendary Jerome Robbins, book by Arthur Laurents, an unforgettable score by Leonard Bernstein and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, West Side Story changed the face of musical theatre for ever. Based on Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet and packed with unforgettable songs including Maria, Tonight, Somewhere, America and I Feel Pretty, West Side Story cemented it's reputation as a masterpiece when the movie version went on to win an incredible 10 Academy Awards - including Best Picture.

Entire original production directed and choroegraphed by Jerome Robbins. Direction and choreography reproduced by Alan Johnson.

"The best reason to see the new West End West Side Story is to hear it - though one wishes one didn't have to hear some of the Puerto Rican and New York accents adopted by the almost entirely British cast... Yet, however compelling it still is to hear, West Side Story - which was once the most up-to-date of all musicals - has now become, to look at, a period piece. This revival's programme tells us that the original direction and choreography by Jerome Robbins have been reproduced by Alan Johnson; and it often looks as if these young British performers have been taught every flick of the fingers, every a'la seconde, every hand-to-cheek gesture from a 40-year-old production-book... Still, this revival is at best a very tepid facsimile of the original. Robbins's letter may be honoured here, but not his spirit." The Financial Times

"Had time and familiarity pushed West Side Story across the gap that separates the living masterpiece from that institutional-sounding thing, the 20th-century classic? The programme, which proclaimed "Jerome Robbins's Original Direction and Choreography Reproduced by Alan Johnson", was not encouraging. And then a paradox occurred. The reproduction felt original... But when Maria's friend, Anna-Jane Casey's excellent Anita, denounces Tony in song you feel the racial bile... The Puerto Rican girls stylishly swirl and swivel; but when the males enter the equation everything becomes fierce and angular, hot and angry. As the invention and the clatter intensify, you feel you are watching uncontainable hormones bursting from bodies. You feel you are watching testosterone transformed into movement. You are watching West Side Story as it was meant to be." The Times

"West Side Story is still one of the great powerhouses of the musical theatre, a dynamic, heart-lifting spectacle that grabs its audience by the throat in the opening moments and deposits it, some two-and-three-quarter hours later, limp but ecstatic in the street outside. Having thrilled large chunks of the country on tour, Alan Johnson's production [comes to] London. A vibrant young cast, among whom I thought Katie Knight-Adams as Maria, the show's Juliet, and David Habbin, her Romeo, outstanding, scorch the stage: Arthur Laurents's script has lost none of its bite, and the young Stephen Sondheim's lyrics to those marvellous songs - Tonight, Somewhere, I Feel Pretty and the rest - shine like chrome hubcaps on a new Chevvy. Hurry over to the West Side for an exhilarating evening." The News of the World

The musical West Side Story in London at the Prince Edward Theatre previewed from 1 October 1998, opened on 6 October 1998 and closed on 9 January 1999, transferred to the Prince of Wales Theatre opened on 22 January 1999, closed on 8 January 2000.


West Side Story 1984

Previewed 8 May 1984, Opened 16 May 1984, Closed 28 September 1985 at Her Majesty's Theatre in London

A new production of the Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim musical West Side Story which comes into the West End following a successful season at the Leicester Haymarket Theatre earlier this year. The cast features Steven Pacey as 'Tony', Lee Robinson as 'Anita' and Jan Hartley as 'Maria'. Original direction and choreography by Jerome Robbins, recreated by Tom Abbott with set designs by Martin Johns and lighting by Chris Ellis.

"It's just 26 years since West Side Story burst onto the London stage to revolutionise the history of the musical. It was the first show to have a serious message - about the racial hatred between Puerto Rican Immigrants and New Yorkers, the first show to fully Integrate dance into the plot, the first show about teenage violence, with a cast of unknowns... In this production - at the same theatre where it opened in 1958 - the cast of newcomers is all-British this time. And what is lacking in talent is more than made up for in raw energy... The real discovery is Jan Hartley as Maria. She looks as though a strong wind would blow her away, but her soprano voice is so clear and true that she shines like a beacon through the dark streets. Somewhere, there's a place for her." The Daily Express

"It is refreshing to see a show un-afraid to tap basic emotions and that presents books, music, dance and lyrics all driving to the same destination... If any one thing makes it a great musical, it is Jerome Robbin's production and choreography (here faithfully reproduced by Tom Abbot)... And if I have any criticism of this Leicester Haymarket production, it is that the Jets look as if they've come from the rough end of Kingston-on-Thames. But when it comes to the big dance-numbers they and the Sharks deliver the goods and prove that frenzied actions speak louder than monosyllabic words... It is a triumph of ensemble rather than a star-show; and that reminds one that the musical can achieve an almost operatic intensity as in the reprise of 'Tonight' when the love-theme counter-points the impending violence and when five groups of characters advance three different plot-strands." The Guardian

West Side Story in London at Her Majesty's Theatre previewed from 8 May 1984, opened on 16 May 1984 and closed on 28 September 1985.