West Side Story

Date 26th January 2024
Society Droylsden Academy School
Venue Droylsden Academy
Type of Production Musical

Report

Author: Kevin Proctor

As an ardent admirer of this classic and highly celebrated work, I ventured into Droylsden Academy's semi-immersive production with excitement. On arrival, the idea of walking into Manhattan’s West Side was apparent, greeted by pupils of the school, in character, asking us to pick which gang (‘jets’ or ‘sharks’) we wanted to join, upon choosing we were given a sticker to wear to cement our recruitment for the evening. Having cherished the original film along with an array of cast recordings and not forgetting the recent film revival, I couldn’t help but hold high expectations for this beloved musical, eager to witness the interpretation brought to life by a younger generation.

 

It was evident that this production was fuelled by passion and dedication. The energy pulsating through the venue was palpable, a testament to the verve and commitment of the cast, team and staff. It's heartening to see the enduring legacy of this musical being passed down to a new generation, with performers who have undoubtedly submerged themselves in the essence of the production which, I’m sure, will continue to hold a special place in the hearts of many of these youngsters for years to come which itself is something that brings me vast joy and pride.
 

Hearing Bernstein's iconic score took me to my element, not only transporting me through so much nostalgia but – as intended – to the gritty streets of 1950s New York. Despite my familiarity with the material, I found myself captivated by the fresh perspective and youthful vigour injected into it.

 

Conquering ‘West Side Story’ is no small task, given its reputation for rigorously testing the capabilities of every theatre department. As much as it will pain many people for me to say, (even myself in some cases!) I believe – in many ways – it was a smart move to use backing tracks. This score is insanely advanced and as much as I cherish hearing the score live, one : it’s a very expensive luxury and forgoing this cost still wouldn’t guarantee you a precise product and two : I entirely appreciate the comfort in performing to tracks knowing exactly what you’re going to get which can help the creatives (and cast) to relax and focus on the - oh so many - other areas. So please don’t feel as though using tracks was a cop out, for this venture, I entirely appreciate the decision.

 

The pace of the scene work was drilled and so much of the script work was entirely understood by the cast, the principals appeared confident and drilled with what was expected of them, something not to be taken for granted. Additionally, what should not be underestimated is articulation, there was hardly a syllable missed throughout the entire performance which is to be highly commended. It feels very unfair to single out individuals in what is essentially an ensemble effort, however, I cannot submit this report without mentioning Maria's voice which soared with breathtaking clarity, beautiful! - infusing the stage with raw emotion and vulnerability. Furthermore, Anita's portrayal was a tour-de-force of acting prowess from someone of her years, infusing the character with depth and complexity, both of their performances were magnetic and their presence commanded attention, leaving an indelible impression to a degree rarely experienced in school productions. I will not continue to give any further individual critiques in this write-up through fear of it turning into something which resembles a menu!

 

This production did indeed boast many standout qualities, anyone who knows this show will appreciate that choreography is a mammoth ask of any production of it, of course there were mixed abilities amongst the cast but what I did admire was how this was tackled head on and every performer was undeniably giving us their very best attempts. There’s a lot of dance in this show and it has to be applauded how hardly any of it was trimmed, which it so easily could’ve been. It was also clear how some cast members were more advanced than others (inevitable) which could have been showcased more. It’s far from easy to have to set so much movement to cater for all levels and drilling it to get it as presentable as possible is incredibly time consuming so tremendous applause here also! This school, sadly, doesn’t proffer from a dedicated theatre space – many new build schools don’t which is a huge shame, therefore this was a makeshift auditorium in its canteen, a huge space which would benefit from improved masking so we didn’t see the backstage area as much as we did, I’m not saying this to quibble, merely as support to sharpen the overall impact if possible, ensuring that the audience remains fully immersed in the unfolding drama without getting the distractions of what’s going on backstage.

 

It's evident that the cast and crew poured their hearts and souls into bringing this wonderful musical to life on stage. The school is fortunate to have passionate staff who inspire a sense of dedication and discipline in the pupils, nurturing their talents and fostering a love for the performing arts, what’s not to love about that!?

 

Such a commendable effort showcasing the potential and promise of these young performers, the enthusiasm displayed by the cast and crew are truly commendable. As a fervent admirer of the musical, I applaud the school's commitment to preserving and celebrating the legacy of such an iconic piece in musical theatre history ensuring that it continues to inspire and resonate with audiences for generations to come.