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Michael Gray’s Arts Blog – West Side Story

This was another near faultless production from CYGAMS, one of the most ‘professional’ amateur groups in the town, the fourth time they have revisited West Side since 1978.

Lead male, Tony, was played with an effortless voice and great presence by Sam Toland, with terrific support from his Maria, Emma Bennett –especially in their duets, such as ‘One Hand, one heart’. Bart Lambert and Henri de Lausun, as gang leaders, exuded testosterone all over each other and really gave the action muscle. It would be invidious to pick out other parts; the strength of the production is in the depth of talent they can call on, and all performed with distinction.

I felt the costumes made the actors more clean-cut grammar school than hopeless drop-outs, which jarred with the superbly run-down sets. And the choreography, by ex-Young Gen Gavin Wilkinson, though commendably high energy and with immaculate discipline, was a little stereotyped. Musical Direction was by Bryan Cass.

In a throwaway line in the programme the President Peter Smith called this group “the class of 2010”, and it is a sort of Fame Academy. These blockbuster productions are the graduation ceremony, presided over by the benevolent presence of Ray Jeffery pulling the strings. Afterwards, graduates will disperse, some to other groups, but many will never go on stage again. But they will never lose the sense of confidence and self-assurance they have gained.