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West Side Story Review

With a sold out audience every night, a large cast and professional performances, West Side Story was possibly HGS’ most successful production to date.

The musical is based entirely on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet but thrown forward hundreds of years and set in 1950s Manhattan, with the Capulet and Montague families replaced by ruthless street gangs Jets and Sharks. The story has a tragic end, and with it a clear moral message warning of the dangers of prejudices and racial hatred. This message was clearly demonstrated in this production of the musical, as the end scene was one of unity, seeing both gangs take off their signature colours, and symbolically remove their differences.

However, despite these serious undertones, the play remained packed with wonderfully joyful and lively moments, the highlights of which were ‘Officer Krupke’ performed by the Jets, and ‘America’ performed by the Sharks. Both these consisted of highly complicated choreography, which was executed impressively by both gangs; during America, amidst the already challenging vocals, the cast members were pushed across the stage in shopping trolleys, imitating a bull fight. These professional features of the show are partly what made it so impressive, and it was easy to forget that you were sat in a school hall rather than a theatre.

As well as the cast, what was also astounding was the skill of the orchestra. Every song was played live by school pupils, and this was made all the more impressive by the fact that they were several feet in the air, placed on top of the scaffolding which made up the set, doubling up as the backdrop for gang fights and the balcony for Tony and Maria’s meeting which mirrored the famous balcony scene of Romeo and Juliet.

148This set was just one of many notable features of the stage production that made the show so much more than was to be expected from a school play. The lighting was consistently well used throughout the show, but the highlights in terms of technology included the use of strobe lighting towards the start, creating the illusion of one of the main characters running through Manhattan.

There is little I can find to criticise in this production. Whether viewing it as the work of school pupils or as a professional performance it was genuinely outstanding in all areas. I never thought that I would cry at a school production until I was much older, but this made me come incredibly close, and my only complaint would be that the complete sell-out meant I couldn’t go back a second time.