Review: West Side Story, Buxton Opera House

The new kids on the block at Buxton Opera House will surely be a force to be reckoned with when it comes to stage show awards.

Last night’s performance of West Side Story was one of the most exhilarating shows by a young company I have ever seen – it is hard to believe that they have only been working together for months and not years.

The show is often described as the greatest dance musical of all time and from the off the new young company was determined to do it justice.

The much-loved musical, based on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, tells the story of two teenagers from rival New York street gangs, the Jets and the Sharks, who fall in love and cause already simmering tensions to explode.

At Buxton this all took place within a stage set of intricately placed scaffolding poles and effective metal fence screens and gates on to which projected lighting was used to change the scene.

The dynamic, pulse-racing choreography was sensational for such a young team and they must have put in hours of rehearsal to get the moves and timing perfect. (No doubt they will giggle at that because there must have been some hiccups but they were not visible to us mere mortals in the audience).

This cast, however, were not just stellar dancers and actors, they were also impressive singers. I knew my evening was going to be a joy as soon as I heard the soaring tenor voice of Tony played by Jak Skelly in Something’s Coming. Matching the love-struck Romeo musically was his beau Maria played by Alexandra Hazard. Their duet, singing one of the musical’s favourite songs Tonight, was beautiful.

West Side Story is celebrating its 60th anniversary this year and Paul Kerryson the chief executive of Buxton Opera House felt it would be the perfect show to give aspiring young performers in the High Peak an opportunity to shine.

His idea was to develop the next generation of performers and designers by giving them the chance to work alongside and learn from  the professional team at the Opera House.

As director of this show he must have been proud to watch them on stage and see just how they had responded to the guidance they had been given. The choreographer Debbie Norris, musical director Mark Goggins and fight director Renny Krupinski did a marvellous job to manage so many young people with varying degrees of experience.

This electrifying and moving version of West Side Story is a very professional production by an amateur cast and I am sure this is just the first of a long list of great shows they will bring us and they must be in line for a hatful of awards.

The rest of the cast were Lucas Bailey, Stewart Bowden, Dominic Corner, Benedict Parkin, Sebastian Stone, Christopher Blackshaw, Luke Fraser, George Coubourgh, Zoe Eastwood, Olivia Riseley, Emily Bancroft, Luke Clayton, Natalie Coverley, Joe Hatton, Ferris Wild, Reuben Austin, Sean Roberts, Sam Higginbottom, Maria Dunford, Emily Callow, Alieke Oppermans, Isabel Wedgewood, Isobel Rubio, Sarah Bailey, Phoebe Wilman, Naomi Athay, Daniel Large, Tavis Hill and James Rockey.

The stage manager was Emma Furness, costume designer Debbie Norris, lighting designer Guy Dunk, sound designers James Morgan and Hannah Griffiths and the rehearsal pianist was Ed Simpson.

The orchestra were Simon Murray, Mel Waddington, Susan Goffee, Kim Jameson, Mark Harrison, Rhiannon Symonds, Simon Chaplin, Patrick Noone, Andrew Saunders, Dave Dossett and Jonathan Chalker.

West Side Story can be seen at Buxton Opera House until February 25. For tickets go to http://www.buxtonoperahouse.org.uk

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