Wednesday, September 28

West Side Story – Theatre Royal Wakefield

A Tour de Force of a production in every perceived meaning of the phrase.

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 and continues to do so in Wakefield this week!

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.

Having seen productions such as Cats, Miss Saigon and Les Misérables by Wakefield Youth Music Theatre in the past I knew I was in for a good night with a very high calibre of performance skills on the stage and I was not disappointed. Directed and Choreographed by the talented Louise Dennison it was obvious this 50 strong cast of young people had been well rehearsed and were having the time of their lives. Musical Direction by Jim Lunn was as always, exemplary, and the choral quality of the cast played homage to the detailed vocal training they had received. Sound by John Trenouth, on the night I was present, was good and the lighting design by Di Clough added the needed ambience and mood to the production. The Set was statutory and gave working levels for the actors with balconies and stoops. Drapes were flown in to create the bridal shop and a bed and further drapes to create Maria’s bedroom. This set allowed for a fast-flowing show with no unnecessary blackouts for scene changes. In Short, the set matched the cast – fluid and versatile!

Photo: Robling Photography

Tony was played by Frankie Bounds and this young man has a great future ahead of him with his soaring Tenor vocals, his performance is mature and detailed and his acting through song is a delight to watch particularly in the show stopping ‘Maria’. Bounds is matched perfectly in performance by Abi Morris as Maria, her depiction was innocent yet strong, sweet yet fiery and totally believable. Morris has a strong soprano voice that will only strengthen with age. As a pairing these two were very well suited and I am excited to see what maturity adds to their performance skill.

A special mention must be made for stellar performances by Jacob Birch as Riff, Lauren Dickenson as Anita who had just the right amount of Latino fire and her rendition with Morris of – A Boy Like That was one of my favourite scenes. Joseph Johnson as Baby John attracted my eye whenever he was on stage, a strong triple threat! And George Bentley’s rendition of – Somewhere, during the dream ballet sequence, was just beautiful.

The Act One closer – The Rumble, was as hard hitting as I have seen, and the Act Two closer was even better. I feel privileged to have witnessed both. All the iconic songs were delivered with great gusto, but my absolute favourite of the night had to be – Gee Officer Krupte, the boys had a ball with this number, and it was evident. The ferocious pace was slick, poignant and comedic in the right amounts. It is so uplifting to see so many young men on stage together – A rollercoaster of a number!

It is very hard to find anything that I could comment on constructively, as at times I totally forgot I was watching a youth production such was the skill and professionalism on the stage, it was only when the energy occasionally overpowered the depth did I remember, but I am sure that as the cast settle into their roles they will hone a more subtle command. But most importantly, I left the theatre feeling elated that tonight I had witnessed the future and present of our theatre tradition and our theatre’s future is in very safe hands. It is so wonderful to see not only the hard work, dedication and pure enthusiasm these young people have but with the continued training, a lifelong future of performing.

West Side Story is at the Wakefield Theatre Royal until Saturday 3rd of September, and I am sure they will be the hottest tickets in town, do not miss this production – if you can get a ticket! It is stunning on so many levels, and that cast deserve accolade.

Reviewer: Tracey Bell

Reviewed: 25th August 2022

North West End UK Rating: ★★★★★