Since it first premièred in 1957 in New York, performances of Leonard Bernstein’s musical of West Side Story have been capturing the hearts of audiences of all ages for the past fifty eight years.

Inspired by the tragic love story of Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet and set against the backdrop of a blue-collar, ethnically mixed neighbourhood in New York’s Upper West Side, the social significance of the tale of two rival street gangs (the Jets and the Sharks) of different ethnic backgrounds and the stigmatised love affair between its two main protagonists, has not lost its relevance.

Over 100 young people took to the boards for this Stage Experience production, in a show which was, incredibly, put together in just 10 days.

With a particularly strong female cast, the outstanding 18 year old Rebecca Bolton certainly steals the show as the innocent, love-struck Maria (brother of Bernardo, leader of the Sharks), who falls hopelessly in love with Tony (ably played by 21 year old Sam Berrie), a Jet.

Having locked eyes across the room at the neighbourhood dance, which gave the cast members of the rival gangs the opportunity to show off their dance skills in a colourful, energetic Jets vs Sharks ‘challenge dance’, the balcony scene gave Bolton and Berrie the chance to showcase their vocals as they professed their love for one another with ‘Tonight’.

By far, the biggest scene stealer of the first act belonged to the Shark girls’ rendition of ‘America’. With a feisty performance from 17 year old Isabella Dawson (Anita), extolling the virtues of life in America and energetically backed by the female Sharks, she goes up against her compatriot Rosalia (played by 19 year old Alice Schofield) who delivers impassioned vocals as she yearns for life back in Puerto Rico.

Act 2 opens with the infamous ‘I Feel Pretty’ and another opportunity for Bolton to demonstrate her exceptional vocal ability, followed by the creative opening of ‘Somewhere’, featuring a short ballet performance which sets the scene for a peaceful, fantasy world where Tony and Maria dream of being together. The stagecraft of this piece is particularly effective as the entire cast emerges onto the stage for a reprise, filling up every available space, including some of the unoccupied audience boxes. With a cast of over 100, this is quite a spectacle to behold and one of the highlights of the second Act.

Whilst love, longing and rivalry abound throughout the production, it is also not without its humorous moments. Backed by the Jets, Dillon Burgess (Action) delivers an outstanding performance of ‘Gee, Officer Krupke ’in Act 2, much to the delighted amusement of the audience.

Despite the odd, very minor, technical blip with microphones (and the occasional faltering American accent!), this Stage Experience production was clearly enjoyed by all, both cast and audience alike.  In a fantastic opportunity to gain experience of treading the boards of a big theatre, this wonderful cast of young performers really give it their all, singing and dancing their way to standing ovations from the audience in what was an energetic, vibrant production of this well-loved romantic tragedy.

West Side Story runs at the Palace Theatre until Saturday 15 August 2015.

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