What a show! West Side Story ran for three nights and a matinée from 10th-12th February at The Playhouse, Weston-Super-Mare. I’ve been involved in school productions since the age of 12 and I’ve never seen anything so ambitious and so impressive. It’s not every school that puts on their show in a professional theatre, and we’re very grateful to The Playhouse for their hospitality and expertise. The facilities and the surroundings certainly added to the experience for the audience and the students lived up to the expectations, raising their game to professional standards.
Every aspect from the costumes to the choreography, the production design to the performances, the band to the backstage crew was first-rate. The whole cast and crew meshed together in perfect sync, with the dynamic set changes smoothly managed and entrances and exits sharp, crisp and timed to perfection. Once on stage characters were clearly defined – not just from the leads. The Sharks sashayed with Latin passion, the Jets dripped with urban cool, and within the gangs it was clear to see careful and subtle characterisation. The leads, though, were truly outstanding. I saw the show on the Friday when Adam Caulfield as Riff and Michael Nickells as Bernardo seethed and glowered at one another with all the menace and threat of young men who could not – would not – back down. The tension created between these two young men, on the verge of adulthood but still with the naïvety of youth, was wonderfully counterpointed by George Davis as Tony and the Anna Lalande as Maria. George showed from his first appearance that he had outgrown the petty squabbles of the street gangs, and tackled the vocally demanding solos and duets with great assurance. Opposite him, Anna Lalande was sublime – her voice filled the auditorium and captivated everyone. I was particularly impressed by Jodie McKitterick as Anita, who managed the transition from live wire joker to broken victim with real skill.
Of course, it was a production with two casts, and my sources from the Thursday night performance assure me that the other performers were just as impressive. Dr Wratten wrote of the second cast:
“they not only did their own bits brilliantly but always acted as a team. Of course, some individuals shone – the challenge of the on-going aggro and fight scenes between the boys was always compelling and strongly led by Adam, Dawid, Jasper, Jake and Christian; the sheer Latin vitality of the Sharks’ ladies was brilliant, especially Nina, Ruby, Jess, Jasmine and Rosie. But the principals shone very brightly – the duets between Edward and Molly and Molly and Lucy were well beyond their years. The almost final, haunting piece between Maria and Anita would have brought the house down if everyone wasn’t silently weeping.”
The dances were no less impressive. In her programme notes, Miss Lippe commented on the joy of working with male performers with little or no previous dance training – if it wasn’t for that note, I would never have known. The commitment, timing and energy of the dance from the very first number was astonishing. Particularly moving were the interpretations of Somewhere in the second half, where imagination of what was possible gave way, horrifyingly, to what was likely.
My final word goes to the incredible twenty-three piece orchestra, which delivered Leonard Bernstein’s complex and challenging score with huge energy and sensitivity. Working tirelessly to support the performances on stage, the applause for the musicians was justifiably rapturous at the final curtain call.
What a show indeed. Thanks to all the staff, students, friends and family who made the production possible. Everyone involved – including the audience – has memories to treasure for a lifetime.