Northampton Musical Theatre Company present the timeless musical at Royal & Derngate until Saturday 27 October 2018
West Side Story is one of those musicals that evokes fond memories for many theatre lovers. As I sat down in the almost full auditorium, the elderly gentleman next to me regaled me with the story of when he played a Jet in his school’s version of musical. With its ‘star-crossed’ lovers, ballet inspired dance sequences, music and lyrics by the inimitable Bernstein and Sondheim, and its universal themes of conflict and love, it is understandable why it is one of the older musicals that has stood the test of time.
The curtains come up on a simple but effective set evoking the Upper West Side New York, and we are quickly introduced to the two rival gangs the Jets (White Americans) and the Sharks (Puerto Rican Americans), through the medium of dance. The choreography is reminiscent of the original balletic influences of Jerome Robbins and instantly recognisable in the use of clicking and gesture. Riff, played by Gordon Ritchie, rallies the gang in the opening number of the show, to evict the Sharks from their neighbourhood. Ritchie’s powerful voice and clear New York accent, really captures the almost caricature like gang leader, ready to do anything for his turf.
Tony (Sean Page) is immediately identified as being separate from the other Jets by the change in location – we are introduced to Tony’s dreams for a different life outside the gang, but also his feelings of obligation to his friends. Page’s acting and singing in this opening number for his character is indicative of his performance throughout, his vocals are lovely if a little soft, and his emotions are clearly expressed through his careful facial expressions. He is endearing to watch and really captures the essence of youthful naivety that comes with the character.
As the main Shark women are introduced, Maria (Amanda Guiliano) and Anita (Susie Pack) play perfectly off each other in the Bridal shop, as women joined by a culture and a desire to be American. Guiliano and Pack’s accents are to be commended as they are fluent and believable as Spanish speaking immigrants.
The all-important Dance scene finally brings the whole ensemble cast on to stage. The choreography is good, however the limitations of the stage space make it feel at times a little too crowded to truly show off the dancing. Ama Scuotto’s Bernardo, the leader of the Sharks, really comes in to his own in this scene, leading his gang and facing off with Riff, whilst also looking suave and sexy. The dance between Anita and Bernardo truly stole the scene, as their chemistry and passion is palpable from the audience.
In the following numbers, Maria and Tonight, as Maria and Tony get to know each other we are treated to the first vocal performance from Guiliano. Her clear soprano voice is strong and sweet at the same time and embodies the love that she has for Tony, together they harmonise to create a tender moment.
The first of the truly stand-out scenes comes in the form of the infamous ‘America’. Peck’s Anita leads the other shark girls in a slick and spirited dance routine that injects some needed energy at this point in the performance. The costumes, music and acting all work together to remind the audience of one of the key themes within musical. Sam Perryman as Rosalia is an excellent contrast in this scene and her performance in the ensemble is strong throughout.
Ritchie should be congratulated for his stage combat choreography as it is well paced, mostly believable, and at times very slick.
Where there were timing and pitching issues in the first act, the second act was certainly where the musical came in to its own. The ballet sequence showed off the dancers to the best of their abilities and created an almost dream like quality on stage. This was aided by the female soloist, Hannah Jarvis, whose rendition of ‘Somewhere’ was effortless and arguably the strongest vocal performance of the evening.
The second stand-out scene came close to the end in ‘Gee, Officer Krupke’. Luke White, as Action, is truly a force to be reckoned with throughout the show and this scene is where he is allowed to shine. His strong vocals, excellent character acting and precise dance moves, lead the other Jet boys in what is a hilarious and excellently directed scene of comic relief. Henry Patterson and Issac Gavin need to be mentioned also for their tireless dynamism and enthusiasm.
As the elderly gentleman said to me, this is a musical that still has a lot of social relevance today. In a country divided we can certainly relate to the themes within West Side Story, and perhaps this is why we continue to watch it with the same interest as the many times before. NMTC have produced a faithful and at times excellent production of this well-loved musical. For those who enjoy musical theatre and West Side Story, then I would recommend it as an enjoyable night out.
Performance: Weds 24 October 2018, Royal & Derngate, Northampton
West Side Story runs until 27 October 2018 at Royal & Derngate. Tickets available online from www.royalandderngate.co.uk
Rebecca is a drama teacher, actor and all round lover of theatre. She is new to the Northampton theatre scene, however is passionate about supporting the arts and artists. Becky dabbles in all areas of theatre in her spare time, her life really does revolve around the stage!