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Dated 11th April 2019

By Paul Mason , NODA NW

Above Maria (Jade Schofield) plays the balcony scene. While below the choreography of the Jets and Sharks was allowed to 'shine'.

NODA Review Adult Section Musical

- West Side Story 

The comprehensive show programme told me it was 29 years since TAODS last produced this musical. I hope we do not have to wait another 29 years for the next revival at the Hippodrome.

Universally identified as one of the great turning points in musical theatre, “West Side Story”, when it took the stage in 1957 (originally “East Side Story”), is a masterpiece that transcends the genre of M.T. and can legitimately be called a work of art. Masterpieces need careful handling. There can be few people in the audience who could not sing two or more of the songs and recognise all of them. Familiarity brings with it dangers. It was good to see so many younger performers who could have no better schooling in the finest of musicals to hone their talents.

The story is well known based as it is on “Romeo and Juliet”. It recounts the tale of one indigenous New York gang’s rivalry with another of Puerto Rican immigrants. When love rears its complicated head, tragedy is flagged. The audience knows what is about to happen as of course do the characters themselves, “(Something’s Coming”). The rest of the show is concerned with following the path to its inevitable tragic conclusion. Everything is in place for any cast to make the most of this opportunity.

I have rarely seen such a talented pit band. The 14 players were in tune with Bernstein’s intention, using light and shade to great effect. In fact, unlike many musicals, once it starts the background music rarely goes away. It underpins the scene changes establishing the mood of the next episode. Helen Clarkson was on top of this difficult score leading her outstanding band from the front. It is to be remembered that every musician, what ever instrument played has as much of an important role as any of the actors appearing on stage. As Sondheim says in “Sunday In The Park With George”, “putting it together, bit by bit..makes a work of art”.

How well directors know this!

 Justine Sutcliffe is to be congratulated on her meticulous direction. There were many touches of brilliance. Not the least was her setting of groups of people in different corners and on different levels on stage with their faces away from the audience while big numbers were being played out in front of them. This added a sense of poignancy. These anonymous citizens were happy in their private worlds, unmoved while major issues were being explored just feet away from their cocooned disinterest.

Chris Stott as Tony was a fine piece of casting. He held the audience in the palm of his hand. And what agility! Leaping from level to level with the confidence of a cat on tonic. There is no doubt Chris had studied his character deeply. We felt instinctively that he was at one with Tony’s dilemma. Maria, safely in the hands of Jade Schofield, was equally impressive. Her rendition in the balcony scene was touching. Jade looked the part and made the most of her role demonstrating grief, happiness and confusion at the appropriate times with enviable élan.

All the other principals, Martin Cook, Emma Cook, Joel Brown and Alexandra Townend played their roles with distinction.

Tony (Chris Stott) and Maria (Jade Schofield) as the star-crossed lovers

The large ensemble, Sharks, Jets and all the others, were excellent. Their chances to shine come in the big choreographed numbers. I confess to be no dancer so I always smile in amazed appreciation at any one who can put one foot in front of another or leap at least 6 inches in to the air. However, I can recognise innovation when I see it. There were many examples of this on stage. I literally gasped at times at routines I have rarely seen employed. Emma Cook’s choreography moved me, let’s just leave it at that.

The role of Doc is I suppose like that played by Alfred, himself a chef, in “Happy Days”. He does not have any songs yet is pivotal as the representative of the bigger older America, quietly getting on with chasing his dream, bemused by the antics of the young. Edward Munday, a survivor from 29 years ago incidentally, is a man of the theatre.

There was one song where absolute clarity was sometimes underplayed. “America” is the height of wit. In fact, Sondheim said of his lyrics to this song that he was worried they were too clever to be put into the mouths of the characters singing them. We need to clearly hear “buying on credit is so nice, one look at us and they charge twice” etc and so on. And the rest of the song as well. These are genius lyrics that in addition to their wit add political reality to the differing lifestyles of, and attitudes toward, immigrants versus native New Yorkers.

Overall this was a magnificent, thoroughly inspiring production. Thank you, TAODS.

I must not finish without reference to the truly splendid “Props Room”. This newly opened adaptable space (complete with bar) is a most welcoming area to entertain guests or indeed stage readings or even performances. I was most impressed with the way it has been conceived. I shall look out for news of its ongoing development.