As a lavish revival of the original Broadway production of West Side Story prepares to take Glasgow by storm, Alice Bain flies out to Amsterdam to chart the continuing battle between the Jets

and the Sharks.

Scott Carollo as Tony and Sarah McGraw as Maria in the latest production at West SideSIory

fyou touched another gang there would be a fight it‘s always on the surface.‘ Yellow satin world tour jackets move among the regulation dance gear. as the stage director gives the final instructions before the evening performance of West Side Story at the Rai Theatre. Amsterdam. Off-stage and along the corridor. the American ambassador crunches nuts in the closed champagne room. watched by the dodgy eyes of a least two bodyguards. The brown suits say ‘don't touch‘.

The audience assembles in its seats. ll"est Side Story. 21 musical now regarded as a classic by all and as this century‘s ‘musical‘

masterpiece by many. is about to play again. Thirty-four years old. its themes of hate and prejudice are still very much alive. a fact of which the ambassador. behind his human shield. must be only too aware.

It's that connection with reality that makes West Side Story bigger than the average musical. Edwin Bordo. playing the old soda fountain owner. Doc. recalls the second performance in New York's Wintergarden in 1957. 'lt was the first musical 1 ever saw. I only went because the guy playing Chino was a buddy of mine from acting school. Sol sat there in the second row and just . . .‘ l le throws up his hands where words fail. Bowled over. ‘One of the most astounding things was. that after the overture. the curtain went up in silence. No singing. There was dance. People have no idea. no frame of reference for it. Then I was at the opening night in London. People just went insane. They had never seen anything like it. American dance. American music. American everything.’

In 1957 things American were things good. ‘Automobile in America Chromium steel in America" Wire-spoked wheels in America Very big deal in America.‘ say the Puerto Rican girls in one of the most zulrenaline-kicking numbers ofthis musical ofhits. Post-war. America was the dream-factory ofthe world. But for the average immigrant. the reality was survival. In a tale of two gangs. one European. one Puerto Rica n. West Side Story encapsulates that reality in a way which makes it as relevant today as it was when the musical was conceived by the collective genius of choreographer Jerome Robbins. composer Leonard Bernstein. writer Stephen Sondheim and novelist Arthur Laurents.

Sarah MeGraw. who sings a pretty but powerful Maria on this European tour was made all too aware of that relevance during the sell-out Munich run. ‘We were there at the time of the Gulf War— it was really I heating up. I think the entire cast was 9 affected by it and I can‘t say anything’s been closer to the surface than during that time.‘ Her respect for West Side Story is strong. ‘As long as I can keep going back to Maria I don't mind doing fluff like operetta.‘

Alan Johnson. a dancer with the original show and now director choreographer of this and eight previous revivals. was in Berlin on the first European tour. He too experienced the power of the piece in tense political circumstances. '\\'e \\ ere there at the time the wall went up. It was all \ cry much like an old American musical mm ie where there is a number going on on stage and then there's a disruption in the audience

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