West Side Story is brought gloriously to life on stage at Birmingham Hippodrome this week. Matt Hawksworth, the Director and Choreographer describes the piece as ‘one of the mightiest collaborations’ - but that seems to not only apply to the plethora of talent involved in originally conceiving this show; it also applies to the dynamic, multi-talented team behind this particular production.
Following 1,000 auditions, 40 incredibly talented individuals were selected to be a part of this epic production (plus 4 adults!) and they filled the stage with vibrancy, energy and sheer enthusiasm from start to finish.
There were moments where you could hear a pin drop and then there were moments of rapturous, unceasing applause for the talent witnessed on stage, by this incredibly supportive audience. The local theatre scene was out in force and it was a pleasure to be a part of it.
It’s hard with a show like this to single out certain performers as they each brought great skill to their roles, however particularly excellent performances came from Luke Rossiter as Baby John and Gibsa Bah as Bernardo, alongside Bethan Day as Betty, whose vocals wonderfully captured the beauty of ‘Somewhere’.
Matthew Pandya’s buttery vocals as Riff were an absolute delight, he excelled in the role and it’s hard to believe that he has just finished college; he is a serious talent. Leading the way and bringing the whole show together was Alex Cook as Tony and Kamilla Fernandes as Maria. They were a force to be reckoned with, both delivering fantastic vocal performances and capturing the heart-warming and heart-breaking moments with sensitivity and maturity beyond their years.
Admittedly, there were times when the stage felt overfilled and there were a couple of moments where dialogue was inaudible over the band, but these are small gripes for what was an incredibly polished production from a set of exceptionally talented individuals (both on and off the stage).
With a stripped back, cleverly designed set from Al Parkinson complemented by David Howe’s brilliant lighting design, the show was brought together by the rest of the creative team. From costume design (Rachel Baynton) to energetic choreography from Matt Hawsworth (also Director) and Ruth Seager and musical direction from Paul Murphy, this Bernstein, Laurents, Sondheim and Robbins show has been done more than justice right here, in the heart of the Midlands.
It is safe to say that there is a melting pot of young talent in the middle of the UK and to see a glimpse of just 40 of these performers last night was a real treat.
Formed in 2018, brand new Lichfield theatre company Let Me In Productions brings the hauntingly beautiful Spring Awakening to life in the intimate, stunning surroundings of St Mary’s. The recently converted church houses a fantastic performance space and through Richard Poynton’s direction, Jessica Lambert’s choreography and lighting design from Martin Pritchard and Christopher Buckle the space is cleverly transformed for this production.
Based on the play by Frank Wedekin, this musical adaptation has a book and lyrics by Steven Sater and music by Duncan Sheik. Originally opening on Broadway in 2006, the play is a brutal coming-of-age story, exploring mental health, sexuality, abuse and mortality.
The brilliant 13-strong cast work tirelessly in this stylish production and although there are a number of standout performances across the night, it really is an ensemble show. Glorious harmonies make the spine tingle, with the show closing on a vocal high with The Song of Purple Summer. Poynton’s direction brought some ingenious touches. The theme of light ran through the piece, with illuminated books and costumes providing moments of sheer awe.
Hattie Rumsey plays Wendla Bergmann. Opening the show excellently with Mama Who Bore Me, her voice resonated through the room. There was also superb support from Lucy Allen as Martha Bessell and a notable vocal performance from Dominic Sterland.
Matthew Facchino delivered a nuanced performance as Hanschen Rilow, with Joseph Riley confidently leading the way as an assured Melchior Gabor.
However, Christopher Buckle’s Moritz Stiefel shone through the night. His intense, pained portrayal of this complex character was exceptional. Also with an outstanding voice, he left a lasting impression on the stage.
A couple of minor gripes, included the sound balance issues (which did iron out as the performance went on) and although slick and pacy as a piece, some of the more harrowing moments flicked by a little too fast.
That aside, with a band under the astute direction of Jack Hopkins, the music was an utter joy, coupled with the fiercely talented ensemble; the team at Let Me In Productions have created a real masterpiece.
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