site search by freefind advanced

 Connecting professional and amateur theatre in Newbury, West Berkshire and beyond

Park House School - West Side Story

November 29th to 1st December 2001.

This is the NWN review.

Teamwork the key to success

'WEST SIDE STORY', at Park House School, from Thursday, November 29 to Saturday, December 1

This was a very challenging production for the pupils, which they tackled with great enthusiasm and verve. The programme lists 87 actors and dancers, a production team of 29, and 13 in the orchestra under the baton of Mr R. Burks - a luxury of numbers not available outside a school.

The musical mirrors the story of Romeo and Juliet but translates it into life on New York's West Side, and portrays the enmity between two street gangs - the Sharks of European origin and the Puerto Rican Jets. The warring young people are victims of their deprived upbringing. When events take over, three of the boys are killed by rival gang members.

The boys were well-played and darkly menacing from their first entrance. Their girlfriends were strong in supporting roles, especially the colourful Puerto Ricans with their Latin looks and accents. Everyone on stage took a lively interest in the proceedings, giving the fast action all their attention.

Special mention must be made of charismatic Asta Petkunaite, who played Maria. She was delightful, with clear speech, a lovely singing voice, a smile and animated facial expression throughout. Laura Marlow also played a convincing role as Anita.

Andrew Cave, as Tony, who had outgrown the Sharks, looked and sounded right for his sympathetic role, but at times struggled with the songs. The love scenes with Maria were correctly pitched.

I did not detect any need of a prompt throughout.

The singing was the weakest element in the production and, hopefully, this will have improved during the following two performances. The orchestra worked hard and often drowned out the singers, who did not have sufficient amplification. It would have been better if the principals had been miked up. Sometimes the vocalists seemed to be fighting the orchestra, and at others were off-key. The chorus were not always in time with the accompaniment, and were not always sure when to come in, especially in the 'Officer Krupke' song.

Having said all that, this is an incredibly difficult score for non-singers, as much of the time the musicians are not accompanying with a clear melody. I wondered whether there had been sufficient rehearsal with full orchestra and sound system. However, those on stage were never daunted by the demands.

The dancing was splendid and the choreographers and dancers are to be congratulated. The cast put all their efforts into their high-energy and athletic numbers and none looked awkward, embarrassed or out-of-place, even though the movements were complex. A highlight of the performance was the ethereal dance, professionally performed, by Hayley Cairns and William Llewellyn.

The stage crew were swift and efficient with their scene changes. Set design was unusual but effective and placed the orchestra on a high platform against the brick wall, which itself lent credence to the street scenes. The costumes, a mammoth undertaking, worked well.

The production was an enjoyable result of happy teamwork from all involved.