Lyrics: Stephen Sondheim
Choreographer: Rachel Catherall
Artistic Director: David McNeill
Reviewer: Julia Taylor
West Side Story is a popular production for youth groups. Stage Experience’s version made up of young people aged 11–22 must be one of the best – and they’ve only had 10 days of rehearsals.
The sheer enthusiasm and expertise of the cast is overwhelming. Under the guidance of outstanding choreographer, Rachel Catherall not only is the dancing of both sexes fleet footed and acrobatic, but also the positioning of each cast member is different as are their movements. Even though there are 100 performers, there are no straight lines here.
In the fight scenes the young men, from opposing gangs, are realistically aggressive even in dance.
Set in Manhattan’s Upper West Side, this musical is almost 60 years old yet the teenaged gangs known as the Jets and the Sharks, relate to today’s young people. Teenaged disaffection and racism are rife even now in the 21st century.
The gang leaders, Riff (Michael Gardiner) from the Jets and Bernardo (Sebastian Groves), a Puerto Rican immigrant, from the Sharks, convey a combination of toughness and vulnerability, which is deeply moving even as they lay down the law to their mates.
It’s the gang system that causes the tragedy that envelops the two stars of the show. For the lovers, Sam Berrie’s Tony and Rebecca Bolton’s Maria are from opposing sides and this leads to their downfall.
Sam brings tears to the eyes when his Tony dies in the arms of his true love, Rebecca’s Maria but that is after he has sung with such emotion,Maria.
We never doubt the bond between them. This is illustrated when they sing the tear-jerking There’s a Place for Us,which is repeated by the entire cast during a standing ovation at the finale.
The tension is eased early on when Rebecca’s Maria sings I feel Pretty.
Another lively moment comes when Maria’s best friend, Anita, an animated Isabella Dawson sings America with an unfaltering accent and the full-blooded Latinasupport of the girls in the chorus.
None of these beautiful songs would be the same without the backing of the 14 strong orchestra, led by Paul Lawton
It must have been a wonderful experience for the young cast to appear at the prestigious Palace Theatre in Manchester and a tribute is due to Artistic Director, David McNeill who has directed this annual youth show for five years now.
It is something they, and the audience, will never forget.
Runs until Saturday, 15th August 2015