West Side Story
Paul Johnson | 19 Oct 2017 19:57pm
West Side Story is arguably one of the greatest love stories ever committed to stage. Based on a conception by Jerome Robbins and set in the mid 1950s, this romantic musical update of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, set in New York’s deprived area, explores the rivalry between two teenage street gangs of different ethnic backgrounds. The Puerto Rican Sharks are taunted by the Jets, from the poor white community, who ruled the turf long before the Sharks came along. Former Jets member, Tony, falls in love with Maria, sister of the Sharks leader and as the story develops the fragile, hopeless position of the lovers is exposed.
The Michael Frayn Theatre hosts Mayhem Theatre Company’s performance of West Side Story. The 15-piece band, visible on stage in this comfortable, modern studio style theatre take almost one third of the available stage space. They are, in my opinion, worth every inch of space as are fantastic from start to finish under the direction of Simon Gray and Ashley Harvey. The balance of music/vocals is spot on, the full band is powerful but not overpowering. Fantastic!
Director and Producer, Jessica Harman and Sophie Barthel respectively, opt for a fairly simple set which works well with additional levels used to full effect. Good work by the set design team, Stuart James, Michelle Evans, Sophie Barthel and Jon Wade. Unfortunately the downstage action, particularly at low level is very difficult for the audience to see, even on tiered seating, which is a real shame. The scene changes are slick allowing the story to flow. Well done to backstage crew and cast members involved.
West Side Story is a very challenging show to produce and you can’t attempt it without a good choreographer (and a willing and able cast!). Alice Bendall has obviously worked hard with everyone as the choreography is very effective and mostly executed wonderfully by the team. If I am being really picky some of the dance leaps are a little mis-timed but in general the timing is very good and the cast give 100% energy and commitment. I like some of the subtle movements – these are extremely effective, for instance the hand movements of the couples in the background when the lovers first meet. Stand out dancers for me are A-Rab (Barry Lattimore-Quinn) for conviction and style, Big Deal (Paulo Vaa) for effortless style, Anita (Yvette Shiel) for pure talent and energy, members in The Ballet (for beautiful interpretation).
Costumes are in keeping and props appropriate and well used. The gun is pretty realistic and I saw a few audience members literally jump in their seats! There is no mention of a make up artist in the programme which may explain why the ‘rumble’ wound/injury make up is so poor – it looks like lipstick – this really lets you down. Invest is some quality fake blood and bruise wheel.
The lighting is mostly very effective but on odd occasion the follow spot seems a bit slow and it does appear difficult to light the downstage area.
All of the cast are talented from the principals to the cameo roles / chorus, there isn’t a weak link, however for me a special mention must go to: Tony (Charlie Smith) for a fantastic, rather unexpected, voice – not really an obvious leading man, but he plays the role very convincingly and has a great chemistry with Maria. In this show many of the musical numbers omit the melody in the band score and Charlie copes really well with the challenging vocals.
Maria (Sophie Shrimpton) has a beautiful, sweet, yet powerful voice. A very emotional performance which has the audience on the edge of their seat. Well done, beautifully handled.
Anita (Yvette Shiel) has fabulous comedy timing, a flawless accent and dances and sings brilliantly. Yvette really gives a spirited performance in this show.
Gee-Tar (Adam Norton) has a range of wonderful facial expressions!
Glad-Hand (Ashley Cavender) plays this cameo role very convincingly.
Congratulations to Anybody’s (Nicola Yorke), tomboy Jet wannabe, who does a really good job vocally in ‘Somewhere’ – not easy immediately following a fairly intense dance routine. This number works well on high level staging as it doesn’t detract from the action on the main stage.
I particularly enjoyed America (as did the rest of the audience), I Feel Pretty, A Boy Like That, Officer Krupke and the Finale.
One can feel the audience emotion in the poignant moments and the cast handle these extremely well, being unafraid of silence, which adds to the atmosphere. Several audience members were in tears at the end of the show.
Well done Mayhem Theatre Company members for choosing West Side Story as the first production in your ‘relaunched’ season. An outstanding success – you deserved the almost full house on opening night.
- : admin
- : 18/10/2017