Interview: Director Nikolai Foster on West Side Story

Mon 15 Jul 2019

This Christmas our festive Made at Curve production is iconic musical West Side StoryIn this interview we talk to Director Nikolai Foster to find out more about how this show is shaping-up and what he’s most excited about.


Why do you think West Side Story is one of the greatest and best-loved musicals of all time?

Musicals are the most complex and collaborative art form in live theatre. It is always challenging to balance the book, music and lyrics, ensuring they are supported by the direction, choreography and design. It requires an astonishing vision to bring it all together and a dash of magic. Few musicals achieve a near-perfect alchemy of these ingredients; West Side Story is perhaps the greatest example of all of these elements working beautifully together. The creators were at the very top of their respective professions and worked collaboratively to realise something ground-breaking, contemporary and truly beautiful. A rare feat, that has been seldom matched since.

Are there any particular elements you’re excited to work on?

It is always inspiring to meet new talent and collaborate with actors at the start of their careers. West Side Story demands a young cast, who you believe are members of gangs, growing up in the harsh streets of Hell’s Kitchen in New York City in the 1950s. They’ve grown up during a World War and now see a different kind of war in the streets around them. The artists need to imaginatively create this reality, in addition to executing extraordinary choreography and being able to sing some of the most challenging material ever written for the musical stage. Working with our casting director Kay Magson, it has been an honour to meet so many talented young people who are going to ensure our production of West Side Story is totally electrifying and speaks to our 21st century audiences.

What will Ellen Kane bring to the choreography?

Everything! Ellen is an exceptional talent and West Side Story at Curve will cement her reputation as one of the most exciting and significant choreographers of her generation. Her work is truly breath-taking and seeing her work with actors in the auditions has been an inspiring and formative experience for me, challenging my practice and forcing me to think about our approach to West Side Story at Curve.

How will Michael Taylor represent New York with the set design?

It is always a great pleasure to collaborate with Michael; this will be our third Christmas production together. Audiences are always excited to see Michael’s designs and with West Side Story, he is really raising the bar to another level. I haven’t seen him this excited about a piece in a long time and he even sings songs from the show in our meetings! Michael and I have been working hard to create a depiction of New York City in the 1950s: part war-zone and part playground, where the remarkable lives of these characters are played out. Unlike White Christmas last year (which is transferring to the Dominion Theatre in London’s West End later this year), West Side Story will exist only at Curve; therefore, Michael and I are able to exploit and use every nook and cranny of Curve’s magnificent stage without the technical challenges of making it fit into other theatres.

Do you have a favourite song or moment from the show already?

I don’t really have favourites of anything, as my job is to objectively tell the story and serve each moment. Therefore personal preference doesn’t really play a part in any of what I do (although taste is crucial). However, I recognise that the Tonight Quintet at the end of Act I is one of the greatest achievements in musical theatre. The musical structure, lyrics and characters’ lives colliding and interacting, is mind-bogglingly brilliant. How this sequence was written / constructed, I have no idea; it is an incredible call-to-arms for anybody working on West Side Story.


West Side Story runs at Curve 23 Nov – 11 Jan. To book tickets, click here.