Lights. Curtain. And that is that. To coin one of poet Philip Larkin’s phrases, “All great stories have a start, a muddle and an end” and this one is no different. But in this case, our very own West Side Story has a start, a squabble, a muddle, a cuddle and an end.
The story is set in the midst of an economic recession in the financial neighbourhood of a fractious Great Britain. The musical follows the rivalry between two street gangs. It is commonplace in these times for the powerful drug lords to give gangs back-hander cash payments and to arm them with guns. This moving musical explores the forbidden relationship between Bill Jets who falls in love with Petra Sharks when their eyes meet across a drugs conference. It plays to the backdrop of sirens and whistles, with Lieutenant Reggie Lator and Officer Holly Gossip trying to keep law and order.
The start – Apart from the odd isolated spat, both gangs keep themselves to themselves. The balance of power is shifting as the once powerful drug lords are now ceding control to the street gangs. In Act one, Reggie decides he wants to clean up his town. No more weapons and no more cash payments from the drug lords. Bill, who turned his back on the Jets and gang violence some years ago and Petra, the sister of the Sharks gang leader are about to become the central pillars of this Romeo and Juliet classic.
The squabble – Reggie says no more cash funding and no more guns. The Jets say they don’t have any guns and already pass the drugs on at cost to their customers with an explicit handling fee. The Sharks say that cash payments and guns are needed to keep the peace and the local citizens are safer if the status quo prevails. Officer Holly Gossip looks deep into Bill’s eyes as she sings a beautiful rendition of “If you wear a white suit then you had best make sure your underpants are clean.” The bulge in Petra’s pocket suggests she is packing and fully loaded and Reggie is unsure who to believe.
The muddle – Reggie is well intentioned. In a hilarious comedy bordering on farce scene, Reggie makes the mistake of pulling at a piece of cotton on his shiny blue uniform, which unravels in front of the audience’s watering eyes. In a moment of reflection Reggie wonders what will happen in the adjacent towns if he bans cash funding and guns in his town? Will the adjacent towns follow suit or will everyone move house? Will all gangs be treated the same, as there are many other gangs in Reggie’s jurisdiction? Oh heck he says, in comical understatement.
The cuddle – in this slight departure from the original script, Bill and Petra are on stage giving a talk to a mesmerised audience. Law enforcement officers Reggie and Holly await their turn to speak. Bill is maintaining his pacifist line with conviction. No more cash. No more guns. Petra suggests that not only should the gang members be armed, but that they should give surplus guns to the community. That will create a level playing field. Lt. Reggie, stood hand in hand with Officer Holly, announces from stage left that he has changed his name and job description. Officer Holly tickles the inside of Reggie’s inner thigh to get his attention, which she does, and whispers something in his ear. With renewed conviction, Reggie stands up and paints his vision for the future. At that same moment, Bill and Petra look at each other and realise that their futures inevitably lie together. Using words that have been mischievously stolen from the greatest ever Bangles song, Bill sings at full throttle to Petra, “Close your eyes, give me your hand, do you feel my heart beating, do you understand do you feel the same or am I only dreamin....”
The end – in a rip roaring finale, Reggie raises the roof with his final song, with some of the best lines ever sung in a West End musical, including:
- No more cash payments from drug lords to gang members
- Payments to local residents from gangs banned, unless it is just a few quid for a cuppa
- Guns can continue to be provided by drug lords, as long as they are distributed fairly to local residents and gang members don’t hide any under their bed
- Distribution of guns to the local community will be taxable
- Drug lords can continue to pay gangs reasonable expenses but Reggie will be keeping an eye on you
- Reggie will have a drive around adjacent towns to see what dirt he can dig up
- Reggie will turn a blind eye for three years whilst the gangs sort their acts out and then that’s that
- Reggie will be mightily cheesed off if his hard work just ends up with the drug lords making more money
- Will large gangs start manufacturing their own drugs, la la...
- The streets will be super-clean, it is inevitable, its inevitable... its ineeevviittaaaable.
The musical closes to the four main characters doing a Moulin Rouge style can-can and harmony is restored. Bill and Petra are delighted, as they both get what they always wanted, though exactly what that is neither can remember. Officer Holly is delighted as she gets to kick her legs in the air wearing her favourite red high heels adorned by matching frilly dress and undercrackers. But most of all, Reggie is delighted as he has saved the town. Everyone will be safe...or will they? As the lights dim, the silhouette of Bill and Petra’s lips lightly touching is a fitting finish to one of the greatest stories ever told.