PROM 38 & 39: WEST SIDE STORY | BBC Proms 2018

In 1957, West Side Story dramatically transformed the landscape of musical theatre, still widely regarded as the greatest musical of all time. Performed under the passionate direction of John Wilson with his eponymous orchestra, this Prom gave this extraordinary score the chance to reveal its true complexity and originality, in a semi-staged (Stephen Whitson) concert production with a stripped-back book.

The percussion section alone took up more space than a full broadway pit band, giving an exhilarating depth and intensity to Bernstein’s famous latin rhythms. Even without choreography, such was the dynamism and richness with which the orchestra played that the exquisitely intense instrumentals ‘Dance at the Gym’ and ‘Mambo’ became thrilling highlights.

Performed by a diverse and energetic ensemble, ’America’ and ‘Gee, Officer Krupke’ received the warmest (and loudest) reception of the night. But the quieter moments were also perfectly judged, including a breathtaking finale to ‘Maria’ by Ross Lekites (Tony). Similarly, Louise Alder’s soprano in ‘Somewhere’ was deeply moving, as was the oboe solo, almost unbearably beautiful.

The whole concert was exceptionally well balanced musically, between all the singers and the orchestra, even in songs featuring an enormous number of forces like ‘Tonight (Quintet)’. To hear such an iconic score, beefed up with John Wilson’s superlative orchestra, is just an hour and a quarter of musical ecstasy. A well-deserved rapturous ovation from a sold-out Royal Albert Hall, for two Proms on the trot.

1,350 £6 Promming tickets are available on the day for every performance.

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