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'West Side Story'

Forecasting favorable skies

by Joanne

July 27, 2002 -- Cannizaro Park, Wimbledon, London

I always book for open air theatre events with trepidation – get the weather right and half the battle is won. However I have also sat through performances with rain dripping off my nose asking myself “what am I doing here?”

Fortunately last night was a perfect evening in more ways than one. The weather was glorious and the beautiful surroundings of Cannizaro Park put the audience in the mood for a hoped–for enjoyable evening. But these elements, although helpful, are secondary to the performance. This production of “West Side Story” performed by the students of Arts Ed has to be one of the best musical theatre productions I have ever seen.

On entering the auditorium area we encounter a split level, graffiti painted set. This was used energetically to create all the various acting areas required to excellent effect. The costuming was modern but appropriate, and the use of sound and lighting in what must be one of the most difficult types of performances to design for was spot on.

But, it was the performances that stole the show. This really was an ensemble show. Energy and aggression oozed from every pore as soon as we heard the first beat of music. The infamous dance routines were slick and the choreographer made good use of a relatively small stage to put across a feeling of space and exuberance in some of the big numbers such as America. One of my favourite numbers was “Cool” where the tension of the situation was put across well with sharp positions held on chairs and tables, reminiscent of cats on the prowl. A special mention for the fight sequences is deserved, as sitting in the front row they certainly scared me at times.

It would be unfair to single out any cast member as the company as a whole was so strong; however, when Maria, played by Kellie Ryan, walked onstage, several of my friends and I were unsure as to whether we would see her as “suitable”. However as soon as she opened her mouth and sang with such a sweet, gentle voice and with such a convincing accent we were all won over. Her relationship with Tony, played by Oliver Tompsett, was well-developed and gentle, a wonderful contrast to the aggression of the rest of the show.

All the lead characters had superb voices but it was some of the ensemble singing that was particularly memorable. “The Rumble” is always a challenge but this was carried off admirably and powerfully and the ensemble version of “Somewhere” was beautiful.

This production was one of the finest examples of ensemble playing I have seen, the leads were excellent but every character made their mark. The fact that obviously all of the performers have worked so closely together at college came across and to see so much young talent on stage at the same time was truly exhilarating.

Edited by Staff.

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