I HAVE said before that I would travel a long way to see anything performed by BODS, having been thrilled by their Rent and Hairspray, and even impressed with The Witches of Eastwick, a somewhat weaker work. So when I heard that they were taking on one of the 20th century’s musical classics, I was excited to be able to see West Side Story, with dance sequences full of energy, reminiscent of the film version, singing as exquisite and accurate as ever, comedy and characterisation that any professional would be proud of, and all in all yet another huge, huge hit.
As the show approaches its 60th anniversary it remains as relevant as ever, with the immigrant Puerto Rican community amidst the natives and the tale of the two lovers from different sides, famously mirroring Romeo and Juliet. It is interesting that publicity for any production of the show not only has to credit Laurents, Bernstein and Sondheim as writers of words and music, but also Jerome Robbins as original director and choreographer, as well as him having the concept for the show.
Dance was a huge feature of the show, some sequences could have been part of one of Matthew Bourne’s creations, and the boys in the Jets could easily take on The Book of Mormon, which that is saying something. They not only jumped, turned, moved together and held and lifted their girls when needed, they also provided the comic hit of the whole show, Gee, Officer Krupke, with wonderful physical characterisation, humour, panache, and all at breakneck speed. I would have happily sat through a complete encore of this one. The Sharks were good, but the Jets have more opportunity, and completely capitalised on it. The girls were good too, but it is rare to see the male talent equalling and bettering them, especially in the amateur world.
Lucas Porter, who played Link in Hairspray, was Tony, and his voice had a lovely soft side to it, as well as a harder edge which sometimes caught the sound engineer off guard as it grew in volume, and his PR lover Maria was played by Rosie May Cook, last seen as Cinderella in Into The Woods. Her voice matched Porter’s well, and when they both sang together the effect was magical. The supporting players all gave good support, and good characterisation, bringing a real humanity to this sad and tragic tale.
Beneath the stage, literally underscoring the whole show, was the solid, slick, and reliable BODS orchestra, every player giving their best, with some beautiful accented solo counter melodies picked out on ‘cello, saxophone, clarinet and trombone, amongst others, and wonderful percussion, all under the expert musical direction of Peter Blackwood, bringing Bernstein’s music to life and adding that extra dimension to the entertainment.
The set, as is often the case with large amateur musical companies, was bought in, and sadly it rather dominated the stage at times – it would have been great to have seen such talent allowed to strut their stuff across the whole arena, rather than just the front half of the Theatre Royal Stage: perhaps the choice of set was limited by cost or the company providing it, and it did have some clever features with folding sections and different levels, it was just a bit too cumbersome for me, but that is my only, very minor, criticism of yet another great show from this marvellous company.
Well done again BODS, and roll on October, when they will be bringing Blood Brothers to town.
Production photographs by Ken Abbott