The Curve’s West Side Story is billed as an amateur production but it showcases a gangful of professional performances from its young cast. They bring an edgy contemporary touch to the story of lovers from different cultural backgrounds, doomed by mutual hatred.
Even if you’ve not seen the 1961film version many of the Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim songs will be familiar. This community production of the update of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet – itself more than half a century old – gives1957 Manhattan an East Midlands flavour.
Most of the audience bemusedly followed the New York cop’s directions to cross the dark stage before finding their seats, through the girders of the derelict Upper West Side and kids hanging out. There is a literal smoky atmosphere which swirls around most of the action and sometimes up through the aisles. A projection of a large faint image of the Virgin Mary and stained glass lighting effects suggest both the religious background of the Puerto Ricans and the purity of Maria and Tony’s love which crosses the cultural divide and ends in tragedy.
The rival white American Jets and Puerto Rican Sharks gangs are drawn from X-Factor style auditions of hundreds of young people on the Curve stage. The swaggering, finger-snapping numbers include many notable contributions, including Shark leader Bernardo (Tai Hector) and Gregory Knight’s lithe and acrobatic Action. The Gee Officer Krupke number, lampooning the official ways of dealing with juvenile delinquents, is a triumph.
Maria (Charlotte Rhodes) has a sweet and soaring voice and she and Tony (Daniel Beniston) are credible star-crossed lovers.
Gemma Kotak also gives a strong and immensely likeable performance as Anita.
A few of the accents are dubious and but this sell-out, posturing, testosterone-chargedsell-out show proves Leicester has talent. And the orchestra deserves its ovation.
‘The cast has given the well-loved musical a new streetwise and energetic look,’ says the Curve’s artistic director, Paul Kerryson. ‘The brilliant lyrics, music and themes still speak to every generation in a new way.’
The Curve, Leicester until July 24