West Side Story

HELEN CARRIE has nothing but praise for this, the largest musical production Cambridge has ever seen.

ADC five stars helen carrie Musical pippa dinage sarah ward West Side Story

ADC Theatre, 15th-26th March (except 20th), 7.45pm, £8-12

Directed by Pippa Dinnage and Sarah Ward

[rating: 5/5]

What do you get when you cross a cult classic Shakespeare-rewrite with a troupe of all-singing-all-dancing thesps of no mean magnitude? A chemically-charged evening of musical deliciousness, that’s what.

Arthur Laurents’s take on the torturous tale of star-crossed lovers, set in the gang-land depths of 1950s New York City brought Willie Shakes bang up to date. Last night at the ADC, with co-directors Pippa Dinnage and Sarah Ward at the helm, West Side Story’s continuing cultural relevance and ability to captivate audiences was re-asserted.

The cast were expertly selected. Chemistry between the leads Tony (Will Karani) and Maria (Catherine Harrison) improved scene-by-scene as would be expected of the insecure, inexperienced young couple, as they grew in confidence and in love. Argyro Nicolaou gave a well-refined performance as no-nonsense diva Anita, allowing glimpses of her character’s vulnerability to show through the self-assured exterior. Her ability to retain a perfect Puerto Rican accent while singing was impressive. Bernado’s (James Rowell) Spanish heritage was played very convincingly too, as was his languid aloofness. Jon Padley’s audacious and guttural interpretation of Lieutenant Shrank was also to be highly commended.

Photographs by Amy Jeffs

Musically, the standard was extremely high. The voices of both Harrison and Karani were faultless during their solos; in the later duets Harrison successfully reigned in her powerhouse soprano to better complement Karani’s butter-wouldn’t-melt tenor tones. Riff’s (Rory Stallibrass) solo moments were carried with the tunefully nonchalant ‘cool’ of the song’s title.  Jet and Shark choruses were appropriately rousing and moody. The band-come-orchestra were unassailably tight as they masterfully managed the music of this musical.

Choreographer Brent Cannons-Clickard pulled out all the stops. Dances were feisty and frivolous; any problems with timing only added to the unpolished edginess of the gang-culture depicted. The fight-scenes were steered wisely clear of slap-stick, instead the brawls were made to convey genuine tension and anxiety.

The show’s more sinister and tragic moments were handled sensitively and intelligently. Bernardo’s ghostly reappearance – a moment which could easily have descended into sentimental farce – was ingeniously directed and consequently moving. Harrison handled her portrayal of grief and later of hysteria with poise and control. The frenzied attempted-rape of Anita provided a truly disturbing depiction of the influence that a gang mentality can have over otherwise rational people. The Jet boys’ subsequent deflated mortification was also poignantly sincere.

One stand-out moment was provided by the ensemble ‘Tonight’. The heads of the audience whipped back and forth with all the concentration of a Wimbledon final as the men of the rival gangs had a raucous sing-off from opposite sides of the auditorium. The angst of the Jets and Sharks was wonderfully offset by Tony and Maria’s passionately melodious outbursts as the number built to a deftly-directed crescendo, of multi-level, multi-harmony mediated mayhem. Goosebump-inducing stuff.

With over a hundred participating actors, musicians and crew, this is the largest scale musical production Cambridge town has ever seen. Every one of them deserves a hearty pat on the back, though this task will sadly have to fall to someone else’s lot, since my hands are still numb from applauding.

This show is quite justly sold out. Those lucky enough to have got their hands on a ticket are in for a Week 8-apathy-alleviating extravaganza.