Thursday, February 29

West Side Story – Rotherham Civic Theatre

Great gusto delivering an iconic show. 

A long-time favourite of many, West Side Story which is based on the concept of Jerome Robbins – as a modern day telling of Romeo and Juliet – is synonymous with Robbins famous choreographic style. Collaborating with Arthur Laurents as writer and the legendary composer Leonard Bernstein with Stephen Sondheim as lyricist; West Side Story was always going to be a hit. From its film versions in 1961 and 2021 to its innumerable stage productions the musical has engaged people for the last 65 years.

Set in the 1950’s, the musical resets Romeo and Juliet onto the New York streets and the world of rival gangs, the Jets and the Sharks. Maria, sister of the Sharks gang leader Bernardo, falls in love with Tony, the once Jet who has drifted away from the lifestyle. Drawn back into the gang by his best friend Riff, Tony at Maria’s request, tries to stop the planned rumble between the two gangs. Things go horribly wrong and the romance between Maria and Tony falls victim of the escalating gang violence. The story is timeless and has as much relevance today as it did when Shakespeare originally penned it.

West Side Story is never an easy option to perform and admiration goes out to the creative team of GB Productions &Theatre School, direction by Richard Wilshaw and vocal coaching by Carrie Scott for this production at the Rotherham Civic theatre. With a cast of over forty young people on stage and an orchestra of twelve musicians lead by Steve Trotter, the music is complex, the scene changes are numerous, and the West Side Story requires triple threat performers. But all that said, I left the theatre elated that tonight I had witnessed the future and present of our theatre tradition and it is in safe hands. It is so wonderful to see not only the hard work, dedication and pure enthusiasm of these young people but equally, the feeling that with continued training; importantly, under people who really care about theatre; these students have the possibility of a lifelong future in performing. It warms my heart!

The Set was simplistic and statutory thus allowing for a fast-flowing show with no unnecessary blackouts for scene changes and gave working levels for the actors with balconies and stoops. It is the story that takes centre stage – as it should be. Never in an obtrusive way, mannequins were brought in to create the bridal shop, a bed to create Maria’s bedroom and a counter and tables to create other locations.

It was an absolute pleasure to witness students at various stages of their training, join together with such aplomb to deliver a solid performance on every level. The ensemble work of the cast was the strength of this production and had real discipline and attack. However, in the lead roles, Leah Keys as Maria held the audience in the palm of her hand with her depiction, it was innocent yet strong, sweet yet fiery and totally believable. Keys has a stunning and powerful soprano voice, which the rest of the cast found difficult to equal. Jonny White was a likeable and mature Tony with a good stage presence, clear speaking voice and a developing yet solid vocal. As a pair, their scenes were convincing, sincere and emotive – very watchable!

A special mention must be made for stellar supporting performances by Daniel Schofield as Riff who had a real confidence in role and a strong singing voice. Joe Handley as Action, gave the perfect blend between anger and emotion – not an easy feat in this role. There were some lovely moments from Emma Bland as Anita who had just the right amount of Latino fire and her rendition with Keys of – A Boy Like That – was one of my favourite scenes. Isabelle Whelan as Anybodys attracted my eye whenever she was on stage and really gave the character depth. Also, Nicola Cutts as Rosalia gave a  very mature and self-assured performance.

All the iconic songs were delivered with great gusto but my absolute favourite of the night had to be – Gee Officer Krupte, the cast had a ball with this number and it was evident. The Act One closer – The Rumble, was hard hitting and the Act Two closer was the tearjerker it is meant to be. I feel privileged to have witnessed both. 

West Side Story is at the Rotherham Civic Theatre until Saturday 8th of October, and I am sure they will be the hottest tickets in town, do not miss this production, for several reasons.  Not least to show your support for the people who continue to ensure the ongoing training of these young performers and also, the performers themselves, as they rise to the challenge and relish the opportunity to perform such an iconic show. I am sure that their privilege to perform in the legendary West Side Story will stay in their memories for a long time and fuel their future on the stage.

Reviewer: Tracey Bell

Reviewed: 4th October 2022

North West End UK Rating: ★★★★