West Side Story – PROM 39

My 5th BBC PROM for the year turned out to be an absolute sensation.  PROM number 39 was the John Wilson Orchestra performing Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story.

Luckily, I got one of the limited number of promming tickets that went on sale at 9 on Saturday morning.  I was standing in the arena of the Royal Albert Hall on the west side, naturally enough.  To a packed Albert Hall, the performance kicked-off at 8 pm.

Ross Lekites took the part of Tony.   Mikaela Bennett was Maria.  The two were perfectly matched.  There was back-up from an ensemble of London theatre school students all dressed in white tee shirts.

Last night was a rare presentation of the theatre score as an authorised concert version.   This does compress the story considerably.  In fact, the evening ends abruptly as Tony is suddenly shot.  This wasn’t about dance or detailed stories  but about the fantastic songs and the wonderful music.  For a couple of hours, the Albert Hall became Manhattan’s Upper West Side in the 1950s.

Oddly contemporary, racial animosity and gang warfare aren’t something that was left in the 50s and 60s.  Although this was a hugely uplifting performance, the story is one of tragedy.  A tragedy like the gangs and hideous knife crime of these times.

I remember snippets of the film of West Side Story.  The film followed the the shows success in 1961, so that’s been around nearly as many years as I have.  It was a film that was part of the Sunday TV matinees of my childhood.

The musical plays on the story of Romeo and Juliet.  Its themes will remain popular for as long as there’s youth, conflict, innocence and love.  Every song is memorable.  Only a heart of stone would not be moved by moments of the plot.  Last evening ended all too soon.  A special moment in time.  A BBC PROM that we can be thankful made it on to this year’s calendar.