West Side Story

Date 4th November 2015
Society Irving Stage Company
Venue Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds
Type of Production Musical
Director Sian Couture
Musical Director Mark Jefferson
Choreographer Sian Couture

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Author: Julie Petrucci

West Side Story is one of the great classic musicals of the twentieth century, but is by no means the easiest production to undertake.   Set in the deprived area of New York’s west side, the play revolves around two warring gangs – the Jets led by Riff, who draw their members from the poor white community, and the Puerto Rican Sharks led by Bernardo.  Both gangs are fighting for control of the local streets and the dubious respect they derive from success.

The story is well known – Tony and Maria are the star-crossed lovers, their fate sealed when Bernardo, Maria’s brother kills Riff, and in turn Tony kills Bernardo. The fragile position of the lovers is now hopeless. Tony and Maria decide to elope but the Sharks are looking for revenge - Chino finds a gun and swears to kill Tony.  Maria begs her best friend Anita to warn him, but Anita is attacked by the Jets and furiously tells them that Maria is dead.  When Tony hears the news he rushes out of hiding only to be shot dead on the street by Chino.

The production requires a number of settings in which the story unfolds. Director and Choreographer Sian Couture went for a simple and sinister set which gave the opportunity to put to good use various levels with additional associated furniture and props which, although minimal, clearly indicated where the action was taking place which contributed well to the overall appearance and ambience of the stage. 

Although I realise the intention was to create atmosphere, and indeed there were some very good lighting effects which did just that, I did have a problem with the lighting at times when I personally felt it was too dim.  When Tony and Maria were high up on the balcony downstage right one could only hear them as it was too dark to see them.  

West Side Story is a challenge to say the least. However, this was a cast of talented singers and dancers.  The choreography was very well managed making  good use of the stage with a lively and interesting variety of styles. 

The Orchestra, under the baton of Musical Director Mark Jefferson, was absolutely superb complimenting the voices of the singers throughout.

Jonathan Lodge and Lucy Allen gave excellent performances as Tony and Maria.  Both have beautiful singing voices which complemented each other perfectly.  As a couple they were very believable, and individually their performances were solid.

There were some fine performances too amongst the supporting cast of Jets and Sharks particularly from Nick Bennett (Riff), Stephen Skrypec (Action), Ben Child (Bernardo) and a spirited portrayal of the desperate tomboy Anybodies by Lucy Farrow.  

There are few opportunities within the play for the Jet girls to shine which is a criticism of the script, not the performances of the cast who did the best they could with their material.  The Shark girls were more fortunate and Melissa Castiel stood out with a strong performance as Anita, as did Kathryn Smith as Rosalia.

The costumes were good and top marks too to the make-up team on some authentic looking cuts and bruise following the fights - although from what I hear not all of it was make-up!

All the (very realistic) fight scenes were excellent, and the attack on Anita was very well orchestrated and performed.  In fact it was almost uncomfortably real.

I don’t under-estimate how much effort is required to stage such a complicated large cast show.   This was a highly polished production.  The singing and dancing through-out was first-rate and there was not a single person on stage who didn’t deserve to be there.  The whole show was very impressive and totally deserved the full houses and audience appreciation it received.