The classic Stephen Sondheim/Leonard Bernstein musical is performed this time around by Derby Youth Musical Theatre. This, as far as I can remember, is the first time that I have seen this group, but many of the faces are well known on the Nottinghamshire / Derbyshire local theatre scene.
The story is inspired by Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” it’s the story of the relationships between two opposing street gangs, The Jets and The Sharks, with the two main characters, Tony and Maria being on opposite sides of the fence. This doesn’t stop the course of true love though but exacerbates the feelings between the two gang members with fatal consequences.
This is also a good musical to counter many of the classic musicals which end on a high and happy vibe.
“West Side Story” includes so many classic musical pieces of music, many have become chart and popular hits, covered by some of the cream of the recording industry. “Something’s Coming”, “Maria”, “I Feel Pretty”, “America”, “Somewhere”, “One Hand One Heart” and “Tonight” being among them as well as the lyrically comic “Gee Officer Krupke”.As I was leaving, I heard a couple of women state that they didn't realise how many of the songs in the musical they actually knew.
This is the first full theatre production that I've seen for well over a month, due to the theatre season pause, and this company re awakened my love for this wonderful, and very energetic musical. It actually left me quite drained of emotion because of the emotion these actors put into their performances.
Tony is played by Ryan Wiggins, a young actor I’ve seen on several occasions. He fits this role so well; he’s good looking and has that “boy next door” attitude which is just what Tony should be. He also has the most wonderful voice with such range. I've seen Ryan's Raoul and that that was good; this performance bettered that. His control, especially in his falsetto, was spine tinglingly magical.
Tony’s “Juliet” is Maria, sister of Bernardo, the leader of the Sharks, and played by the lovely Mia Mitchell. Having met Mia a few weeks ago, I knew what a gorgeously talented teenager she is. What I hadn't been aware of was what a beautiful voice she owns. Crystal clear and those notes just flow effortlessly from her mouth. These two, Ryan and Mia, are a theatrical match made in heaven.
Bernardo is played by Sam Fretwell. Another handsome young actor who, at 18 years old, delivers a very mature performance and has an ear for accents, as do most of this talented cast.
The feisty Anita, played by Holly Ann Twells. Loved her accent and the fire she has for this character. Great voice and what a dancer. Enormously energetic, and so pleased that she had come from back stage to show off her wonderful talents onstage.
The leader of The Jets is the incredibly talented Lucas Young. By his own admission this is one part that is unlike other roles that he has performed in the past, but boy does he pull this one out of the bag. He shows what a diverse character player he is. One of the strongest and flexible dancers he showed that he can adapt to any dance form.
Curtis Taylor-Tipton plays Action. As this character he gets to show a more comic side of his acting as he takes the vocals on "Gee Officer Krupke". I've seen Curtis in several roles over the years, and it's great to see him play a role just a little less serious.
It’s a large cast (37) who interact well and the relationships between everyone offstage help to make the relationships with the characters onstage realistic. They all work like a well oiled theatre machine.For a cast of such young actors, they put some professional shows to shame with the energy and stage craft.
The mix of first timers with Derby Youth Musical Theatre and others that have long theatrical CVs blend well, and without reading the very informative programme, you would not be able to guess the experience levels of these actors.
It's also a testament to the actors and technical crew that they made this far from simple musical look so smooth.
The relationship between Tony and Maria is passionate and you can feel this passion, which makes the ending such an emotional scene.
Likewise the relationship between Tony and Riff as long time "bros from the hood" makes you feel that emotion that raged in Tony during the fateful rumble.
Directed by Peter Waters, who must be a very happy director with results like this. It's tight and pacy and he has put together the perfect cast.
Great musicals need great songs, which this show has in abundance, a great story, which it also has, and great dance routines, and that is the third box well and truly ticked.
Choreographer Caroline Green, assisted by Leanne Warren, has recreated some classic routines for this show. There are many different dance styles in West Side Story and it's rather wonderful to see ballet, jazz, contemporary, salsa and more all performed so well.
You can see the time and notice taken just by looking at the hand and foot extensions by both male and female dancers. The hip action with the Latin sections may not be as loose as it could be but I am being very petty here because i have to keep reminding myself how young these actors are, and that sort of flexibility and technique is very hard to develop naturally. Just watch "Strictly" and the rehearsal time they have and compare that to these kids, and you'll see what an amazing job Caroline and the cast have produced.
If i had to choose my choreographic highlight, it would have to be "America". WOW! Amazing!!
Musical Director for this wonderfully emotive and evocative score is Charlotte Daniel. The music creates the perfect atmosphere for the period and the Latin area. That total lush feel of "Maria", "One Hand One Heart" and the amazing arrangement of the final "Somewhere" is just breath taking and emotional. The 12 piece orchestra contains some of the best musicians in local theatre.
"West Side Story" has always been one of my favourite musicals. Derby Youth Musical Theatre have made sure that my love for this musical remains.
Review by Kev Castle
DYMT`s version of Bernstein`s timeless classic based on Romeo and Juliet exploded into dance action between the Jets and the Sharks. Caroline Green`s choreography was well executed by all of the enthusiastic, talented young cast. Great credit is due to Director Peter Waters for his most distinctive direction. This was a very strong cast and all the company played their roles to the full in the emotive plot. The dance at the gym showcased the girls and boys well, and later the girls strutted their stuff with style in `America`.
Holly Twells made a big impact as Anita singing `A Boy Like That`, and was most effective in the shocking drug store scene. Although Riff, Lucas Young and Bernardo, Sam Fretwell are killed before Act 2, they both made an impact with impressive portrayals, both in acting and dance. Chino, William Evans and Action, Curtis Taylor-Tipton also made sound contributions, especially Curtis in the company number ` Officer Krupke`. Lieutenant Schrank was played with attitude by Jude Sinclair, with Russell Hughes as a sympathetic Doc. As the main characters, Tony and Maria, Ryan Wiggins and Mia Mitchell were utterly believable as the doomed couple. Vocals were beautifully controlled, with acting of the highest quality, you could have heard a pin drop during their final emotionally charged scene. `Tonight`, `Maria`, and `One Hand One Heart`, were real highlights.
Flawless lighting by Jamie Vella and team created the right atmosphere, sound by Harry Greatorex was well balanced, costumes by Judith Evans were most authentic and the set with a climb over back and scaffolding gave an excellent backdrop to the gang scenes.
As the icing on the cake, Charlotte Daniel`s band was superb, playing the glorious score to full effect.
A wonderful production, the whole company thoroughly deserved the rapturous applause at the finale.
Review by Keith Scott-Savage