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Before the opening night of West Side Story you could feel the excitement in the air as the audience waited to enter the theatre. West Side Story is a very well known musical and over the past decades it’s been performed by some of the finest names in theatre. Could LUTG live up to the name? Of course they could. It was cool, it was sassy, and strode the line between cheesy and sincere perfectly; resisting the urge to become parodies of the characters themselves. Ultimately it was a hugely enjoyable show that offered both hilarious and heart-felt moments. At the end of the 2 acts you could feel the sincere emotional silence from the audience; partially explained by having just watched their friends murdered on stage. Taking on a musical as iconic and complex as this took huge bravery from all participants but their commitment paid off in what was a truly wonderful performance. It was a confident and self-assured production, which drifted from its source material enough to provide a unique perspective on this classic musical.
One of the films strongest points is the wonderful aesthetic the film managed to create and credit for that must go to the wardrobe, set design, and lighting as well as the actors very natural performances. They truly created the sense that this was 1950’s New York. The show was not without faults, however. At times the choreography was messy; particularly at the start as the performers (rather understandably for opening night) took a while to find their rhythm. At times the show lacked energy, notably during the song Cool as the entire performance seemed to slow to an unnatural pace. And of course, opening nights inevitably feature a few small mistakes, but West Side manages to avoid anything too jarring. These issues were, in reality, very insignificant. By the standards of a university production, this was an extremely professional performance.
I am reluctant to give special praise to certain cast members as the quality of the cast overall was incredibly high. Jamie Steele (Tony) and Molly Hirst (Maria) were inevitably the stars of the show, their natural chemistry and powerful voices drew the audience into their classic love story. Abbie Jones (Anita) however, threatened to steal the show with an incredible performance that, just the like the show itself, balanced quick witted humour with heartfelt emotion. She led the group of Puerto Rican girls who managed to live up to the name of two of the show’s best known songs: America and Feel Pretty. While the musical naturally lends itself to chemistry between Tony and Maria, Riff (played by Callum Berridge) and Bernardo (played Mazdak Kamyab), the leaders of the Jets and the Sharks respectively, had one of the more fascinating relationships on stage, which developed into a real sense of tension towards the end of the first act. This is down to their fantastic performances.
Overall another incredibly strong showing from LUTG, that is a testament to the quality of the people involved. Congratulations to all those involved in the show.