Energetic and moving: SMuTS presents West Side Story

The performance will be running until Saturday

Last night was the opening night of Sussex Musical Theatre Society’s performance of West Side Story, a cult classic musical and later a world renowned, record holding musical film. Held in the Attenborough Centre, the staging was very much what would be expected from an amateur musical with staging to create balconies and truck set to transport the audience to different settings, yet it so strongly symbolised the look and atmosphere of the New York 1950s ghetto.

West Side Story is the classic adaptation of Romeo and Juliet, set in New York City in the 1950s. It tells the story of two warring gangs – the American Jets and the Puerto Rican Sharks. A secret relationship begins between an American boy and a Puerto Rican girl which leads to further tension between the two gangs, ultimately amounting to a fatal rumble under the highway. The story is set to songs by Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim including famous musical hits such as ‘America’ and ‘Somewhere’.

The performance, directed by Andrew Crouch, was held up by an enormously talented cast, all of which are noted. Standout actors were Elly Warboys as Anita, George Marino as Tony, Sam Longville as Riff and Rosa Samuels as Maria.

Warboy’s performance was strong in her solo songs but she also was outstanding in the ensemble numbers when I often found myself drawn to her and her energy. Marino was truly a credit to his role as Tony and constantly reminded me of Richard Beymer who played Tony in the 1961 film.

Longville was possibly one of the strongest actors on the stage with enormous talent in both singing and dancing. He carried the Jets gang through the musical and was excellently casted to do so. Samuels as Maria is an incredibly talented actress with a beautiful soprano voice. She encapsulated the torment and emotion in the character, especially in the final, moving scene of the musical.

Jerome Robbins’s’ original choreography in both the musical and film is part of what makes the musical so good and SMuTS’ choreographers, Erin Knox-Macaulay and Emily Hawes, managed to reflect his style and energy in the dance numbers, even if they did seem a little crowded on the stage at times. Dance highlights of the musical were the opening number which set up the story for the rest of the musical, ‘America’ which was captivating and funny, and the ballet sequence at the beginning of Act 2, which allowed some Sussex dancers to show off their talent.

An exceptional number in the musical was ‘Gee, Officer Krupkee’, performed by A-rab (played by Charlie Passalacqua) and the Jets. It was clear that the actors were having fun and enjoying their performance, which subsequently had the whole audience smiling.

The main downfall of the musical was unfortunately the climactic moment where Tony gets shot by Maria’s arranged fiancee Chino, (played by Steffan Chanyaem). A single, fairly dull and quiet thud on drum didn’t quite have the impact and drama that I would have liked to have seen for this key moment.

I would urge everyone to go and see this production. It is clear that a huge amount of hard work has gone into the show and it’s a good chance to see the incredible talent that Sussex students have to offer. There will be shows this evening, tomorrow evening, Saturday afternoon and Saturday evening.

Student tickets can be bought for a £2 discount through the SU:

Thursday evening

Friday evening

Saturday afternoon

Saturday evening

or through the Attenborough Centre here.

Photos by Malcom Tam