West Side Story brings a breathtaking performance with a timely message to Sydney harbour

By Brynn Davies March 23, 2019
West Side Story

The themes of this classic Broadway musical take on greater significance in the wake of tragedy. 

Less than a week after the New Zealand shooting, Opera Australia’s production of West Side Story was a poignant and timely examination of intolerance. 

The themes of this classic Broadway musical – racially-driven rivalry, violence, love and hate – took on a greater significance for all in the wake of such tragedy. 

The first musical to be performed on Sydney’s harbour stage, West Side Story was a breathtaking production rivalled only by the view of the setting sun over the harbour. 

The city skyline and sound of lapping waves became an extension of the floating world of Handa Opera at Mrs Macquarie’s Chair; the dramatic, graffiti-covered industrial set evoking Manhattan’s urban jungle.

West Side Story

An interpretation of Shakespeare’s Romeo & JulietWest Side Story follows the spiral of destruction caused by two warring gangs - the Puerto Rican Jets and the second-generation migrant Sharks. Racial rivalry manifests in its most extreme form, with the fight over territory secondary to the true source of the gangs’ hatred. 

The love of two young people from opposing camps - American teen and Sharks member Tony, and Puerto Rican Maria, sister of a Jet - is ultimately destroyed by the violence surrounding them. 

The performance of iconic songs such as Maria, I Feel Pretty, and Tonight by opera singers Alexander Lewis and Julie Lea Goodwin adds a level of grandeur and technical prowess never before heard on this classic soundtrack. 

There are truly magnificent moments throughout the production, including fireworks launched from the harbour and exceptional choreography from Julio Monge which borrows key elements from Jerome Robbins’ traditional arrangement. 

Twice the size of any indoor stage in Australia, the floating stage is also sloped for prime viewing from anywhere in the grandstand seating. What’s especially amazing is the way the cast is able to both fill the vast expanse of the stage and perform tight, polished routines without slipping. 

The electric backdrop of the harbour bridge, opera house and Sydney’s city lights is an invaluable part of the experience; we highly recommend drinking in the view accompanied by a few glasses of bubbles on the patio bar.

Opera Australia has created a powerful translation of Broadway’s greatest musical, with the stunning outdoor setting melding seamlessly with the stage to transport us into the world of the story.

Images: Prudence Upton and Hamilton Lund