Review: West Side Story. Carlton Operatic. Nottingham Theatre Royal.

West Side Story updates Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet to 1950s New York. For many musical theatre fans it is the greatest show of all time. It’s score is far more demanding of its singers than a standard musical. It is agreed that the two leads Maria and Tony must be sung by two performers with some classical voice training otherwise they will lack the range and stamina to sing their parts. Composer Leonard Bernstein wanted to prove that there was no intrinsic difference between a Broadway musical and a serious opera. In fact he is quoted as saying that ‘a good musical can be as good as a good opera and far better than a bad opera’.

West Side Story also has many other things that have aided its success professionally and in many an amateur production, namely the solid and poetic lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and the breath – taking book by Arthur Laurents. The often balletic choreography of Jerome Robbins depicting the passionate and spasmodic violent nature of the Sharks and The Jets opposing gangs is something the audiences and musical theatre companies themselves are eager to see well done. Then, of course there are the famous songs ‘Something’s Coming’ ‘Maria’ ‘Tonight’ ‘One Hand One Heart’ ‘I Feel Pretty’ ‘Somewhere’  ‘Gee Officer Krupke’ ‘America’ and ‘A Boy Like That’. Is it any surprise that this enormously popular musical, jam packed full of memorable songs and dance numbers and an emotionally powerful story should be a favourite amongst theatre goers and thereby a real challenge for the company presenting it?

So, after all this preamble, how do Nottingham’s very own multi – award winning Carlton Operatic measure up in their West Side Story playing at Nottingham Theatre Royal Tue 30 May -Sat 3 June 2017. The five stars below might be a bit of a giveaway.

Directed by Amanda Hall with Assistant Director Ross Lowe, Carlton Operatic’s West Side Story excels all expectations and is as near a true professional standard as any amateur company would ever, in their wildest dreams, hope to attain. Chris Rees’ musical direction and live orchestra of twenty-seven are superb. Choreographer Rachael Rees has done an fantastic job with the whole company in bringing this show high kicking and Mamboing to glorious life. The fight scenes are especially well done and blend seamlessly with the choreography. The whole show is well supported by an impressive and versatile set, crystal clear sound (Rob Kettridge) and atmospheric lighting (Tom Mowat). The backstage crew and technicians work tirelessly with the super cast to make this production of West Side Story a very engaging and gripping experience. This musical is celebrating its 60th year of existence and its story of a doomed love affair and of future hope is still as relevant today.

The months of hard work right across the board with both cast and crew really shows in the way the stage is inhabited during the many and varied scenes. Every single cast member looks comfortable in and knowledgeable about their role – big or small. There is a clear division between the physical and vocal attitudes of the Puerto Rican Sharks and the Polish-American Jets. Such attention to physicality and detail is what makes this particular show the great piece of thrilling musical theatre it is. All the cast look like they are having the time of their lives. And they are! The scene transitions are very slickly actualised taking us quickly from one dramatic moment to the next.

The singing is spot on throughout and this ain’t an easy musical to sing. No it ain’t Daddyo! Timing has to be perfect. There are some superb performances from the principles both in the singing and acting. Patrick McChrystal (Riff) has great presence as leader of the Jets always out for a rumble. Paice Lees (Bernardo) and Alex Huntley (Chino) have Hispanic attitude and danger to spare and are very convincing in their roles.

Matt Wesson hits all the right vocal notes as Tony and has some genuinely tender moments with the outstanding actress Ella Greenwood playing her heart out as Maria. Greenwood’s renditions of all her songs  melt your heart.

Judie Matthews always succeeds in whatever role she is given and makes it her own but as passionate Puerto Rican Anita she makes her character set fire to the stage in her dancing and songs. The words seem to soar from deep within and Matthews performance is several of the great moments of this wonderful West Side Story.

Abby Wells deserves a special mention for her beautiful rendition of the iconic song ‘Somewhere’.

In this necessarily youthful and exuberant cast we also enjoy the performances of the older guys Mike Newbold (Officer Krupke and Gladhand), Graham Ward (Lieutenant Shrank) and Adam Collishaw (Doc). Rosie Cotter also makes a sympathetic Anybodys.

The whole hard working ensemble of Carlton Operatic’s West Side Story work their bobby socks off on stage and make this winning and thrilling show one the highlights of the Theatre Royal Nottingham calendar. West Side Story runs Saturday 3rd June.

Reviewer. Phil Lowe.

Photos credit: Gavin Mawditt.

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