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Review: West Side Story

By SPP Reporter

Roddy MacDonald's energetic dancing helped helped enliven Starlight's version of West Side Story.
Roddy MacDonald's energetic dancing helped helped enliven Starlight's version of West Side Story.

West Side Story

Empire Theatre

Eden Court

THERE were powerful voices to match the powerful story in Starlight Musical Theatre’s production of the Bernstein and Sondheim classic.

Dating from 1957, but always topical in its background story of tensions between immigrants and the more established population, and with its story of star-crossed lovers drawn from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, this is a show with a wider emotional range than last year’s more light-hearted Seven Brides For Seven Brothers.

The more serious tone suited the operatic voices of its leads. James Twigg has already impressed local musical audiences in the title role of Jekyll and Hyde, but, here despite the inevitable date with tragedy, he also gets to use that powerful voice on the more tender and optimistic songs of the opening half like Something’s Coming and Maria.

Speaking of Maria, Matilda Walker from the Black Isle certainly looks the part as the young and optimistic girl newly arrived from Puerto Rica and looking for love and adventure while she can — brother Bernardo (Garry Black, who makes an imposing gang leader) already has her earmarked as a wife for his second-in-command, Chino.

Walker plays the part well, but it is when she sings that she makes the biggest impression with a strong and sweet soprano. It is a voice that is still developing, but with Walker about to embark on further singing studies in Cardiff, the signs are already there for a promising career.

Nicola Gray provides a feisty counterpart to Maria as Bernardo’s girlfriend Anita, but makes another key contribution in choreographing the energetic dance scenes which make inventive use of the skills of her performers, be they gymnasts, classically trained or Latin dancers.

Keeping to the original stage show lyrics of America does mean the song sacrifices some of the satirical bite of the film version, but it still retains its showstopping status in Starlight’s vibrant re-imagining as Anita and her fellow Puerto Rican girls swirl energetically around the stage in their brightly coloured dresses.

However, they might just be topped by The Jets’ version of Gee, Officer Krupke. True, some of them may — in the fine tradition of Grease — appear rather long in the tooth to be juvenile delinquents, but the staging of the song is as inventive and witty as Sondheim’s lyrics and nicely performed all round.

Of the non-singing roles Steven Kelly has fun with Lieutenant Schrank, a one-man good-cop/bad-cop purring menace and laying down the law in a distinctly one-side manner and Talia Bagnall also makes an impression as the tomboyish would be gang member Anybody’s.

A couple of times a performer would stumble over Leonard Bernstein’s pacy score, briskly played by a decent sized ensemble under the direction of Steve Jones, but not enough to spoil any enjoyment.

The only real quibble was a bit of interference with the cast’s radio mics — and a little technical issue is not going to dent West Side Story’s claim as the best show to date from the Starlight stable.


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