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West Side Story 2018 NODA Review

West Side Story Performed by Chelmsford Young Generation Thursday 19th April 2018

Being a ‘first timer’ to Jerome Robbin’s hugely successful musical West Side Story, despite knowing the basis of the play being inspired by Romeo and Juliet, I awaited the opening act not knowing what to expect.   The result was the bar of any future productions I see of this vibrant yet tragic tale being set very high.  With the opening scene full of energy, tension and drive which continued throughout, the audience were quickly choosing sides between the streetwise and cocky Jets and the exotic and fiery Latino Sharks.  Set against the realistic stage set representing an inner-city American street scene, the brick walls were worn, plastered with 1950’s vintage posters, rusted railings and graffitied corrugated metal.

Riff, played by Dan Hall, led the opening number with intimidating attitude and energy, his swagger mirrored by his posse of Jets. A confident and talented dancer, with accurate and well executed moves, he led the others well. Action, played by a quick to temper Matt Wickham, provided the muscle as his right-hand man.  Despite their posturing, they were soon challenged by rival gang the Sharks, led by Bernardo, played by Charlie Toland with his own followers in tow. Bernardo had a constant air of danger about him, driven by a passion to keep his family safe in this edgy new world the Sharks now called home, a far cry from his distant Puerto Rico.  Despite the sometimes subtle difference in the gangs costume (apart from the ladies, so flashy and feminine in their layered dresses), it was clear who belonged to which side by the unique way each actor held themselves. There was a clear divide between these two cultures.

Our introduction to Tony, a reluctant Jet, played by Jack Toland, led to ‘Something’s Coming’, which allowed Tony to fill the auditorium with his strong vocals in anticipation of the storm rolling in, accompanied perfectly by the orchestra.  The use of music transitioned the set changes seamlessly and no pace was dropped as we were transported around the city from dress shop to dance floor to the streets.  One particularly impressive change was from Maria’s dress shop to her ‘first dance’, where she met her fateful lover, Tony. Jessie Hadley’s Maria was likeable from the start, full of carefree innocence and excitement, her voice pure and enthusiasm for her new-found experience of love infectious. The chemistry between the young couple was captivating, as was the dance-off at the gym involving both gangs expressing their flair on the dance floor. Glad Hand, played by Tony Catchpole, attempted to keep the peace. Excellently choreographed and executed, the audience were treated to a whirl of colour, song, harmonious dance moves and a hot, running tension as each tried to out-do each other. Graziella and Velma, played by Izzy Nally and Antonia Rankin, provided a strong lead for the Jets  ensemble dance number, but were easily equally matched against Francisca, Consuela and Teresita, played by Jessica Higgins, Maria Caulfield and Amy Hollingsworth. The following ‘balcony scene’ set against a starry night with the final tableau of the two lovers caught perfectly in the fading spotlight was beautiful.  Anita, played by Livi Khattar, really had a chance to show off her talents in vocal ability and sassy dance moves with her accompanying Shark Ladies in the dance number ‘America’, much to the disagreement of opinion of Rosalia, played by Izzy Churches, who held her argument well against the flurry of colour and quick retorts.

The quintet ‘Tonight’ leading up to the inevitable end of act one gathered pace well, with a varied use of stage space and lighting effects segregating the groups and building the atmosphere onstage to the final crescendo . The fight scene was tense, full of drama, focussed, and led dramatically to the eerie silence and shock of realisation onstage as the curtain fell on the lives of two young men laying deathly still, bathed in a red flood.

The dream sequence following the brutality in act one saw Tony and Maria eclipsed by visions dressed in white, providing us with a still point they are so desperate to find again, before the violence of the previous action catches up with them once more, with grave consequences to follow.  Doc’s store provided what was once a haven for the Jets, only to become an opportunity for a harrowing attack on Anita, with Doc played by David Slater voicing the conscience of the audience. Schrank played by Kevin Richards remained a shadow over the two gangs, attempting to keep order, whilst Krupke’s aggressive ‘baton-happy’ tendency (Played by David Everest-Ring) was affectionately ‘ripped off’ by the Jets in organised chaos and high jinx with well-timed slapstick tumbles.  Only occasionally did I not catch some of the lines if they were swallowed by accents or stumbled upon during a song, which can be easily forgiven, weighted against the demands this complex production puts upon them. The final tragic scene was hard to watch, as Tony collapsed into the arms of Maria as she collapsed in grief with him to the floor.  Chino had been deftly underplayed throughout by Reuben Beard, with the marked bullet delivered with real malice and intent, until, once again, reality dawned so much so that he could not face the result of his action and carry his conquests body offstage.

A mention must go to tomboy Anybodys, played with spirit and attitude by Jessica Martin; what she didn’t have in height, she made up for in temper and wit.  A real spark whenever she popped up onstage.  The soloist Katie Salter also attributed to the quality of this show, as did every actor; each stayed in role, in time and in focus. Director Jeremy Tustin and Musical Director Bryan Cass have worked closely together with their stage manager Dawn Lawton to produce this slick, edgy, powerful production, making full use of their combined experience and challenging their young actors to achieve their full potential.  Uplifting musical numbers, punctuated by some heartfelt raw emotions led to this production being a showcase of the high level of talent this young group of actors has to offer. I would not be surprised to see a number of them thrive as they continue to perform and progress into adult productions beyond the amateur stage.

Katherine Hempstead

West Side Story Performed by Chelmsford Young Generation Thursday 19th April 2018

Being a ‘first timer’ to Jerome Robbin’s hugely successful musical West Side Story, despite knowing the basis of the play being inspired by Romeo and Juliet, I awaited the opening act not knowing what to expect.   The result was the bar of any future productions I see of this vibrant yet tragic tale being set very high.  With the opening scene full of energy, tension and drive which continued throughout, the audience were quickly choosing sides between the streetwise and cocky Jets and the exotic and fiery Latino Sharks.  Set against the realistic stage set representing an inner-city American street scene, the brick walls were worn, plastered with 1950’s vintage posters, rusted railings and graffitied corrugated metal.

Riff, played by Dan Hall, led the opening number with intimidating attitude and energy, his swagger mirrored by his posse of Jets. A confident and talented dancer, with accurate and well executed moves, he led the others well. Action, played by a quick to temper Matt Wickham, provided the muscle as his right-hand man.  Despite their posturing, they were soon challenged by rival gang the Sharks, led by Bernardo, played by Charlie Toland with his own followers in tow. Bernardo had a constant air of danger about him, driven by a passion to keep his family safe in this edgy new world the Sharks now called home, a far cry from his distant Puerto Rico.  Despite the sometimes subtle difference in the gangs costume (apart from the ladies, so flashy and feminine in their layered dresses), it was clear who belonged to which side by the unique way each actor held themselves. There was a clear divide between these two cultures.

Our introduction to Tony, a reluctant Jet, played by Jack Toland, led to ‘Something’s Coming’, which allowed Tony to fill the auditorium with his strong vocals in anticipation of the storm rolling in, accompanied perfectly by the orchestra.  The use of music transitioned the set changes seamlessly and no pace was dropped as we were transported around the city from dress shop to dance floor to the streets.  One particularly impressive change was from Maria’s dress shop to her ‘first dance’, where she met her fateful lover, Tony. Jessie Hadley’s Maria was likeable from the start, full of carefree innocence and excitement, her voice pure and enthusiasm for her new-found experience of love infectious. The chemistry between the young couple was captivating, as was the dance-off at the gym involving both gangs expressing their flair on the dance floor. Glad Hand, played by Tony Catchpole, attempted to keep the peace. Excellently choreographed and executed, the audience were treated to a whirl of colour, song, harmonious dance moves and a hot, running tension as each tried to out-do each other. Graziella and Velma, played by Izzy Nally and Antonia Rankin, provided a strong lead for the Jets  ensemble dance number, but were easily equally matched against Francisca, Consuela and Teresita, played by Jessica Higgins, Maria Caulfield and Amy Hollingsworth. The following ‘balcony scene’ set against a starry night with the final tableau of the two lovers caught perfectly in the fading spotlight was beautiful.  Anita, played by Livi Khattar, really had a chance to show off her talents in vocal ability and sassy dance moves with her accompanying Shark Ladies in the dance number ‘America’, much to the disagreement of opinion of Rosalia, played by Izzy Churches, who held her argument well against the flurry of colour and quick retorts.

The quintet ‘Tonight’ leading up to the inevitable end of act one gathered pace well, with a varied use of stage space and lighting effects segregating the groups and building the atmosphere onstage to the final crescendo . The fight scene was tense, full of drama, focussed, and led dramatically to the eerie silence and shock of realisation onstage as the curtain fell on the lives of two young men laying deathly still, bathed in a red flood.

The dream sequence following the brutality in act one saw Tony and Maria eclipsed by visions dressed in white, providing us with a still point they are so desperate to find again, before the violence of the previous action catches up with them once more, with grave consequences to follow.  Doc’s store provided what was once a haven for the Jets, only to become an opportunity for a harrowing attack on Anita, with Doc played by David Slater voicing the conscience of the audience. Schrank played by Kevin Richards remained a shadow over the two gangs, attempting to keep order, whilst Krupke’s aggressive ‘baton-happy’ tendency (Played by David Everest-Ring) was affectionately ‘ripped off’ by the Jets in organised chaos and high jinx with well-timed slapstick tumbles.  Only occasionally did I not catch some of the lines if they were swallowed by accents or stumbled upon during a song, which can be easily forgiven, weighted against the demands this complex production puts upon them. The final tragic scene was hard to watch, as Tony collapsed into the arms of Maria as she collapsed in grief with him to the floor.  Chino had been deftly underplayed throughout by Reuben Beard, with the marked bullet delivered with real malice and intent, until, once again, reality dawned so much so that he could not face the result of his action and carry his conquests body offstage.

A mention must go to tomboy Anybodys, played with spirit and attitude by Jessica Martin; what she didn’t have in height, she made up for in temper and wit.  A real spark whenever she popped up onstage.  The soloist Katie Salter also attributed to the quality of this show, as did every actor; each stayed in role, in time and in focus. Director Jeremy Tustin and Musical Director Bryan Cass have worked closely together with their stage manager Dawn Lawton to produce this slick, edgy, powerful production, making full use of their combined experience and challenging their young actors to achieve their full potential.  Uplifting musical numbers, punctuated by some heartfelt raw emotions led to this production being a showcase of the high level of talent this young group of actors has to offer. I would not be surprised to see a number of them thrive as they continue to perform and progress into adult productions beyond the amateur stage.

Katherine Hempstead

About Us

Chelmsford Young Generation is a music and drama society (charity registered) for young people aged 8 to 18, established in 1968. Boys and girls work with professional directors to perform two shows each year at the Civic Theatre and the Cramphorn Theatre in Chelmsford.