West Side Story is one of those iconic cinematic musicals, making it a tough act to follow, particularly for a young cast. York Light Youth did an admirable job of it at Joseph Rowntree Theatre.
Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York
Fri Oct 28 to Sat Nov 5 2016 @ 7.30pm, with 2.30pm Sat matinees
It’s a story of young love, blighted by racial hatred and violence: Romeo and Juliet set in Fifties America.
The large cast filled the small stage, and shone bright with enthusiasm and talent.
The discordant music and jagged dance moves that are so synonymous with the story sometimes make it hard for me to enjoy some of the numbers, and probably explain why I seem to prefer the Sharks over the Jets, as they have the more lyrical songs which are my favourites.
From the opening number, with its simple but highly effective set, to the final curtain, this was a highly enjoyable show. The set was cleverly transformed with small touches, helping to set each scene. The school dance worked with just the addition of a few fairy lights, an American flag and a disco ball.
The talented cast all put on an excellent performance, but for me, the star of the show was Amelia Cook who played Anita. She has a stunning voice, looks the part and managed to maintain the accent even in her singing.
One of my favourite numbers is America – and she didn’t disappoint. She was well matched by Ellie Melvin as the girl who wanted to return to San Juan, again her voice was superb.
The young lovers were played by Rob Fisher (Tony) and Catherine Brough (Maria). Both had great voices.
I’m not a fan of accents in theatre unless you can do them really well, and have to say that Jack Porter shone for me as Bernardo, leader of the Sharks. He both looked and sounded the part.
Max Mulrenan deserves a mention for his hip action in the school dance – he has a wicked wiggle going on there!
Costumes and choreography
As I’ve mentioned this was a large cast on a small stage, the choreography of the school dance was well executed considering there was barely any room left on the stage.
The clever use of the aisles on occasion to extend the stage is one of the things I love about this theatre. It brings the show into the audience.
For a young theatre group I was impressed with the costumes, including the variety and the colours. It was easy to identify the Jets from the Sharks thanks to the way that they dressed.
The Jets are full of angry young men, they played the teen angst incredibly well, but raised a chuckle when they performed Gee Officer Krupke.
My favourite song in the show has always been Somewhere, but I felt that it lost something by being performed off stage and overcast by a ballet performance I didn’t think was necessary.
Personally, I would have preferred to have seen Niamh Hassall on the side of the stage in a spotlight whilst she sang, with the young lovers in the background. It’s such a moving song I felt that the dance distracted from it.
Niamh has an amazing voice and deserved to be seen. On the other hand my daughter disagrees with me and thought it fit perfectly with the song.
It’s a well put together performance by a talented young cast, and although there were some first night nerves, it didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the show.
It runs at the Joseph Rowntree Theatre until November 5, and if you like musical theatre then this is a must see.