Book: Arthur Laurents
Music: Leonard Bernstein
Lyrics: Stephen Sondheim
Director: Pollyann Tanner
Reviewer: Carol Lovatt
Stage Experience at the New Alexandra Theatre in Birmingham is an opportunity for young performers to showcase their talents in a professional setting and this year’s choice of the musical West Side Story, the iconic tale of the trials of youth is both inspirational and memorable. With a cast of over one hundred young people from the West Midlands involved and just two weeks to bring the production together, the result is astonishingly good. Stage Experience is not just a vehicle for performers of dance, singing and acting; young aspiring technicians interested in lighting, sound and other areas of stage management can also get involved whether they just have a passing interest in the theatre or whether they hope it will lead to greater career progression in the future. As a summer activity, Stage Experience is very much about developing skills and creating lasting memories and it is clear from the opening performance that the cast is a very tight unit with each member undoubtedly putting their heart and soul into this production.
Vibrant, emotional, exciting and powerful, West Side Story is an all-time musical favourite. Passion, tragedy, exquisite dance moves and a heart-wrenching storyline all have the audience feeling emotional and mesmerised from the start. In the first scene with the gang culture unfolding and the tension between the rival gangs building there is an immediate taste of the quality of both musical content and performance talent. As the Jets and the Sharks emerge on stage and the key gang members including the impressive Jordan Ricketts as Riff and the charismatic Javier Aquilera as Bernardo emerge, the scene is set for the excitement and heartbreak to come. When the highly talented Elliot Gooch, who plays Tony, takes to the floor alongside the beautifully authentic Grace Whyte, as Maria, both with exceptional voices, it is obvious that this is no ordinary amateur production. There is so much talent on show in this version of West Side Story that it is hard to distinguish it all but other key performers who merit a credit include Leah Vassell, emotively stunning as Anita and Jasmine Bailey, enthusiastic and energised as Anybodys plus Jonah Sercombe who plays Doc with sensitivity and maturity.
It is hard to believe that this musical first opened in 1957. The themes are as current today as they were then. Love (think Romeo and Juliet), gang warfare, poverty, racial prejudice and the generation gap can all be applied to any inner city anywhere in the world and this is what makes this piece of theatre so popular. Set on the streets of New York, with a stunning Leonard Bernstein score, this Stage Experience adaptation uses the atmospheric backdrop of that commercial landscape to great effect. One could say that West Side Story was the first of a new genre of musicals that encapsulated traditional themes with more gritty, darker elements providing thought-provoking story telling. It therefore provides an excellent choice for the youth of today and much credit should go to the director and choreographer, Pollyann Tanner, who ensures a flawless production, which has all the hallmarks of a professional offering.Performers must undoubtedly find the street-tough intensity of the larger than for the average musical production and thus provides an exhilarating opportunity to those who have the extensive talents to enable them to be cast in the variety of roles.
Performers must undoubtedly find the street-tough intensity of the larger than for the average musical production and thus provides an exhilarating opportunity to those who have the extensive talents to enable them to be cast in the variety of roles.
This version of the story of the Jets and the Sharks will bring a tear to many an eye at the theatre this week as well as leaving the audience with a sense of having experienced every other emotion one feels in a lifetime in the course of one evening. This truly is a tremendous production from the cast of Stage Experience 2017.
Runs until 26 August 2017 | Image: Contributed