Tuesday, 19 July 2016

Review: West Side Story at Newcastle Theatre Royal

North East Theatre Company
Presents a West Side Story

West Side Story
Newcastle Theatre Royal
Until Saturday 23 July 2016

As the theatre world celebrates 400 years of William Shakespeare it is fitting that the Newcastle upon Tyne Musical Theatre Company decide to perform West Side Story. This musical, with its Arthur Laurents book, was conceived by original director and choreographer Jerome Robbins as an update of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Robbins’ vision mixed musical norms with ballet style dance arrangements. Sandra Laidler has faithfully reproduced the original choreography for this 2016 production.

The other major component of West Side Story is Leonard Bernstein’s music and Stephen Sondheim’s lyrics. Well crafted, beautiful songs that are memorable shine throughout the production. These songs are not easy to play. Bernstein challenges the musicians to stretch themselves. If they succeed then it the music will flow seemingly effortlessly caressed by the catchy lyrics. Musical director Malcolm Moffat leads an 18-strong orchestra that meets the challenge. It is possible to pick out the instruments from the bassoon to the bass as they reach the musical peaks.

West Side Story moves Romeo & Juliet to 1950’s New York. The arrival of Puerto Ricans had led to some clashes and rearrangement of the pecking order of the established gangs.  The narrative concentrates on the Jets and the Sharks. There is an expectation that the Shark Girls will date the Shark lads and the Jets will do likewise. This show poses the question what could happen when Shark Girl Maria (Nikki Cunningham) dances and falls for former Jet Tony (Jamie Douglas).  Maria’s brother Bernardo (Ty Roach-Thompson), who is also the leader of the Sharks objects strongly and this leads to friction between the two groups. The show then follows the consequences of the turf war that follows.

The great news is the pleasing performances of the songs. Jamie Douglas does well with Maria. Lauren Gordon, Helen Cash and the Shark Girls nailed the fabulous America. Nikki Cunningham leads on a wonderful version of I Feel Pretty, with support from Jojo Hatfield, Helen Cash and Victoria McPherson.

The choreography was also very good. From the opening clashes between the clans to the almost dream like ballet sequence in the Bridal Shop, there is a lot to enjoy.

In addition to the key singing cast there is also Dan Greener who is very Columbo-esque as Lt Schrank. Ken Allen is very good as the often calming influence of the drug store owner Doc.

A few opening night wobbles aside, NMTC make a good fist of West Side Story. It is a challenging production to stage and the end result is a pleasing evening at the theatre. The dancing and major musical numbers are particular highlights.

This review was written by Stephen Oliver for Carliol Photography (https://twitter.com/CarliolPhoto). Follow Jo on twitter @jowheretogo, Stephen @panic_c_button or like Carliol Photography on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/carliolphotography .

NMTC’s Newcastle Theatre Royal production of West Side Story will take place from 19-23 July at 7.00pm with addition matinee performances on 21-23 July at 2.00pm, with tickets available at www.theatreroyal.co.uk from £10.00.

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