REVIEW: West Side Story at The Kings Theatre

Published in The Student Advertiser.

It’s the kind of story that finds you reliving your youth, mentally retracing your staggers through first love, first drink… First fight, first loss.

The Jets run the streets of New York; all eight of them are young and free, wild, and charged with the inexplicable unfairness of their deprived upbringings. The Jets are pranksters; they disrespect the law, and women, though, it’s obvious that they’re eccentric defiance towards local cop control overcompensates for a much more sensitive side only visible off the streets. It’s heartwarming, really. And I couldn’t help my mind drifting over to my age-old issue with not being a teenager in the 1950s.

The musical explores the rivalry between the Sharks and the Jets, two teenage street gangs of different ethnic backgrounds, and languages. The Sharks are taunted for their Puerto Rican heritage by the Jets, an all-American white gang. Civility could have been achieved in the situation had protagonist Tony, former member of the Jets and best friend of the current Jets leader, Riff, not fallen for Maria, the sister of Bernardo, the Sharks leader. Alas, there would be no rivalry anymore, so no one left to fight for. No story. When the gangs shake on a settlement, a brawl, outside of the confines of the school gym hall, their hatred for one another amplifies under the glistening late night moon. Some won’t make it out alive.

The week-long production, staged at the Kings Theatre for one week, is being performed by Paisley Musical Operatic Society (PMOS) under the careful direction of Alasdair Hawthron. Marion Baird’s choreography was a resounding success and a far cry from the cardboard ‘step-ball change’ favoured in almost all other amateur productions I’ve been to see in the past (and there have been many). But something was missing on Wednesday night. Something I managed to put my finger on before the end of the third number.

With an electrifying cast of young people, the choice of Tony (Kevin McGuire) seemed an unnatural one. Don’t get me wrong, McGuire remembered all the words and steps, even in the most complicated dance routines, but his performance lacked excitement if not feeling all together. His co-star Gillian Gray (Maria) also leaned towards the stiff side in her performance, and together the pair lacked the integral features you might expect from two teens experiencing love for the first time. That saying, Gray’s sweet soprano voice carried the big numbers beautifully and her acting was particularly strong in the closing scene of the show (I won’t give anything away but it is worth noting).

The young supporting cast far out-shined their leads throughout the performance. Tony and Maria’s love affair became almost like a side show to the comical scenes of the boys’ distresses and run-in’s with the police. Their delivery of Officer Krumpke was of first class, West End quality. Each of the six singers involved executed an extremely complicated-looking dance sequence to-the-beat whilst still maintaining the togetherness of Take That singing Patience. I can’t imagine that is easy but they sure as hell made it look so.

Overall, PMOS managed to do a good job of West Side Story. And, although the production took place in the Kings – the general worry here being whether or not an amateur society will bring in revenue staging in a theatre which has housed Wicked and The Bodyguard – Wednesday’s performance had an extremely good turn out. I can only imagine how high everyone’s spirits will be on Saturday with a sold out performance.

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