West Side Story is an iconic musical, with an incredibly successful history, receiving 6 Tony nominations and later, when the film was released, it won 10 Academy Awards. So it’s no mean feat for any group to take on this musical.
Sutton Arts Theatre embraced this challenge head-on. With a 31-strong cast it was hard to imagine how all the action would fit on such an intimate stage, but this is what made the performance special. The added intimacy drew you in as an audience member, and you were engrossed from the overture.
Following the story of the bitter rivalry between the Jets and the Sharks, we are introduced to an array of characters, played wonderfully by the cast. Maison Kelly expertly leads the Jets in the role of Riff, with superb vocals and a commanding stage presence. He is strongly supported, with a brilliant rendition of the Jet Song and a fabulous injection of humour with Gee, Officer Krupke. Leading the Sharks was Richard Haines, his dominating presence on stage, added to the threatening, hot-headed nature of his character.
As we meet the two central characters of the story, Tony and Maria, they instantly sparkle with passion. Played respectively by George Stuart and Phebe Jackson, their vocals were deliciously delivered, with a dazzling chemistry to match. Particular highlights included Stuart’s Something’s Coming, Jackson’s I Feel Pretty and their delightful duet of Tonight.
As tension brews between the rival gangs, the first half ends with a deadly fight, which was excellently directed/choreographed and utterly gripping.
Other special mentions must be made to Sarah Haines as Anita and James Mateo-Salt as Action. They each stood out in their supporting roles, with Haines’ passion-fuelled A Boy Like That and Mateo-Salt’s swagger-filled rendition of Cool. Barrie Atchison assuredly took on the role of Doc, interjecting the action with a touching plea for peace between the gangs.
Throughout, the ensemble executed powerful, solid performances, with some outstanding male harmonies. The show was brought together under the wonderful direction from Dexter Whitehead, set across a stunning backdrop created by John Islip and Mark Nattras with atmospheric lighting from David Ashton and Richard Pardoe-Williams. Anna Forster took on the daunting role of filling the stage with elaborate dances that not only evoked the West Side Story era, but somehow managed to fit onto the intimate stage. And last, but certainly not least, with the splendid musical direction from Tom Brookes, this timeless musical was stunningly captured by a group of extremely talented individuals.
West Side Story runs at Sutton Arts Theatre until Saturday 20 June. For more information and to book tickets click here or call the box office on 0121 355 5355.
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