STARLIGHT Musical Theatre have solved their own problem like Maria.
The Inverness musical theatre company enlisted the help of the local press in its search for a leading lady for this summer’s production of Stephen Sondheim and Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story.
The quest has paid off with the Black Isle’s Matilda Walker (18) now enlisted to play the role of Maria in the Broadway story of star-crossed lovers and gang warfare in 1950s New York — and director Roma MacAskill could not be more delighted.
"The task was set in the beginning to search for someone fresh and new," she said.
"There was a point where we didn’t think we would pull it off, but along Matilda came. She has the voice and the power, the look and the warmth. She was the complete package."
Starlight has been able to secure Matilda’s services just before she takes her first steps towards a professional career by studying at the National Conservatoire of Wales in Cardiff.
Over the last four years, Matilda has been a regular and successful competitor at Inverness Music Festival.
"That really helped with my confidence and made me realise that singing is what I want to do," she said.
Another key influence is former English National Opera singer turned teacher Moira Harris, who now lives in Achnasheen with her husband Steve Jones, who is the musical director for Starlight’s West Side Story and taking charge of the production’s 22-piece orchestra.
"She’s the one that made me realise that I had something," Matilda said.
Now Matilda, who studied Higher Drama at Eden Court, has her focus set on the voice and opera course in Cardiff.
She also picked up further performance experience in Cromarty Youth Opera’s production of Benjamin Britten’s Noye’s Fludde.
"That was really an eye-opener. It made me realise what fun it was to perform in a group," she added.
Matilda’s mother Verity is a keen member of the Black Isle Singers and was also behind the ambitious Black Isle Messiah project for a community performance of Handel’s masterwork.
As Maria, not only has Matilda to sing, including performing some very high and complex notes in Bernstein’s score, she also has to act, and in a Puerto Rican accent, which Matilda modestly says needs work.
"It’s OK — I like a challenge," she said.
"Am I feeling the pressure of playing the lead role? A little bit. But I’m working with a really great bunch of people as well and they have been really supportive."
The cast includes a number of members who are already experienced in playing lead roles on the Eden Court stage, among them James Twigg (as Maria’s romantic interest Tony), Garry Black (Bernardo), Nicola Gray (Anita) and Liam MacAskill (Riff).
However, as Roma pointed out, the show also includes a number of fresh faces, including a number of new recruits to fill the ranks of rival gangs the Sharks and the Jets.
"There has been a big turnaround in cast members in the last year, which is what we like," she said.
"Starlight was set up to encourage young people — not the very young, but people new to appearing on stage."
Matilda is not alone in moving from a Starlight show to studying for a stage career, Roma added.
Roddy MacDonald, who played Ephraim, one of the Pontipee brothers in last year’s Starlight production Seven Brides For Seven Brothers, is now attending stage school in London.
•Starlight Musical Theatre present West Side Story at The Empire Theatre, Eden Court, Inverness, from Wednesday 20th to Saturday 23rd August.