West Side Story Review

August 11, 2017 by Claire Cosgrove

The Summer Youth Project has been running at The Palace Theatre for the past 10 years and is a wonderful initiative, open to anyone aged between 9 – 19 years old. It’s an opportunity for talented young people in the area to work with a professional creative team, learn about theatre, stage a fantastic show and, by the looks of it, have a lot of fun in the process.

West Side Story is my favourite musical of all time. A modern day Romeo and Juliet, set in the harsh streets of New York where two rival gangs, the Sharks and the Jets, battle for control of the turf. Tension runs high when Tony, a former member of the Jets and best friend of the gang leader, Riff, falls in love with Maria, the sister of Bernardo and leader of the Sharks.

It’s a dark and emotive piece of musical theatre, utterly heart breaking to watch and filled with iconic songs including American, I feel Pretty, Maria and Tonight. Could a young cast of such raw talent really pull it off? They absolutely nailed it. Of course, what I was forgetting was that West Side Story is all about young people, full of passion and anger and self-discovery. The innocence of youth only added to the realism of the show and made it all the more poignant. I could actually visualise the reality of teenagers being caught up in a world that is bleak and grey and simmering with hatred. Racial tension and street culture as relevant today as it was 65 years ago. Knife crime terrifyingly on the increase.

I was captivated from the get-go. It’s a small space for such a big production but the staging was cleverly designed, allowing the characters and props to sweep on and off the stage seamlessly. The choreography was pleasingly familiar to the original and the cast stepped up to the challenge, beautifully supported by a wonderful orchestral band. There was such attention to detail. My eyes were drawn to Michael Bowyer, playing one of the Jet’s, ‘Action’. I could feel his energy bursting around the stage; jittery, jumpy, eager to release his anger on the world. He captured the mood of the show beautifully.

Lois Glenister as Maria appears to be a star of the Summer Youth Project over the last few years and you can see why. Her stunning vocals are effortlessly lyrical and her love and subsequent pain, maturely delivered. There was a warm chemistry between Glenister and Jack Powell, who played Tony. With the responsibility of singing iconic tunes like ‘Maria’ and ‘Something’s Coming’, all within the first half hour of the show, it must take nerves of steel. His naïve belief that their love will conquer was touchingly portrayed. I loved the way the younger cast danced and weaved their innocence around Tony and Maria. I was captivated by them all.

The Summer Youth Project deliver a magical production full of talented young people, who could well turn out to be the stars of tomorrow. Only on at The Palace Theatre until Sunday 13th August so pick up your tickets today – you are in for a treat!