Murder on the Dance Floor: Westside Story vs Romeo and Juliet

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We’re fools whether we dance or not, so we may as well dance – Japanese proverb

West Side Story vs Romeo and Juliet

Two (packed) houses, both alike in colour-scheme…

Yes yes, everybody knows it's the same story, but my daughter had a chance to compare both plays up close and personal, as she took part in each of them in consecutive weeks.

First up was her school production of Romeo and Juliet, where she was playing the eponymous Capulet. This was a huge challenge for her as it was her first time performing Shakespeare, as her repertoire is largely musical and contemporary works.

We watched the two famous film versions – the old black and white Zeffirelli masterpiece, as well as Baz Luhrman's brightly coloured interpretation set around Venice Beach, starring Leonardo di Caprio and Clare Danes. She had to work hard on memorising her lines: unlike other shows where if you forget something you can extemporise as long as the important plot references are covered, with Shakespeare, get it wrong and half the audience will know it. The director of the play was keen to use her strengths, and so had her record one of the soliloquies, and then perform a dance while the speech was replayed over the sound system. She also got to choreograph some of the ball scenes, where the guests danced to Lady Gaga's Bad Romance.

The two duelling houses were distinguished using colour; dark blue for the Capulets, and red for the Montagues. So her costume was just a blue tutu skirt over a black top. Some of the cast wore wigs, but she refused: as she remarked, dancing in a wig is a pain in the ass. Her own long dark hair, suitably curled into ringlets, looked the part.

A catwalk extended from the stage out into the assembly hall, and the balcony scenes were performed on a stairway at the back of the hall. This all helped the audience to feel like they were right in the midst of the action.

Meanwhile, rehearsals were already underway for MT4UTH's production of West Side Story. In it, she was delighted to be dance captain rather than a main role, as the dance numbers are so fabulous. But she did get a little solo singing spot during Somewhere, movingly performed by the cast, bearing candles.

The venue for this show, performed as part of the Belfast Festival, was in a Presbyterian church in the centre of town. The cast used lots of the available space, and often made entrances by running up the aisle from the back of the church. The set was fairly simple and had an industrial feel to it. It came with a solid pedigree as it was designed by those in charge of the Game of Thrones television series, much of which was filmed locally. The choreographer used the percussive capabilities to good effect during the opening sequence, where instead of clicking their fingers, the cast kicked the metal backdrop.

And again, colour was used to visually identify the Sharks and Jets. The Puerto Ricans wore bright reds and oranges, with full circle skirts for the girls, while the Jets wore blue, and the girls' skirts were more straight cut.

Staging this show in a church can't have been easy, and the view from the pews at the back and sides wasn't great, especially for anything happening on ground level. But what a talented cast, full of energetic break-dancers, evocative singers, and an energy that bubbled through every one of those famous Bernstein numbers.

Programme of Westside Story

I got chatting to a lady in the loo during the interval, who had only come along because of a leaflet she was given during a sponsored bag-pack! It turned out she was sitting in the pew behind me, and at the end of the show she was full of praise for the young people who had just given us all so much entertainment.

So, did my daughter see all the parallels in the two shows? She was able to pair up the principal roles, but also pointed out some common use of language, such as hands ( Your hands are cold / saints have hands that pilgrims hands do touch) and the fact that both Romeo and Tony are dreamers.

So a well earned rest for the little trooper this week as it's half-term, but her next challenge is an audition to be part of the opening ceremony for next year's Olympic Games – watch this space!

Murder on the Dance Floor Archive


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