Lots of proud families from throughout the district filled Dunstable’s Grove Theatre this week when the venue’s incredibly talented young performers staged their summer musical.
This year we had the Sharks and the Jets waging gang warfare in Arthur Laurents’ Oscar and Tony Award-winning West Side Story, a loose interpretation of Romeo and Juliet, set in 1950’s New York.
The teenagers give themselves just two weeks of intense rehearsals before launching into three nights and a total of four stunning performances that professionals would find hard to beat.
It’s a controversial story that tackles racial hatred and murder yet this enthusiastic ensemble was more than up to the task.
The original opened on Broadway in ’57 and had an impeccable pedigree. Book by Laurents, music by Leonard Bernstein, lyrics from Stephen Sondheim and choreographed by the great Jerome Robbins, it went on to spawn a hit film and numerous stage productions (the latest of which has just opened at London’s Sadler’s Wells and comes to Aylesbury’s Waterside Theatre in February).
But the story, of rival gangs fighting a turf war while a love story plays out at its heart, is something that everyone in the Grove cast could relate to and they absolutely sparkled.
This was one of the largest casts assembled for the venue’s seventh annual show with almost 70 young stars on the stage.
There were some familiar faces taking major roles. Bradley Adams, as Jets’ headstrong leader Riff, provided a strong anchor for the company, with his powerful voice and commanding performance.
Another regular, Josh Hawkins, was his number two, Action (who knew being an ace at darts would one day come in so handy?), who came into his own with a highly animated cameo singing Gee, Officer Krupke.
Another standout turn came from Kyle Casey as the Sharks’ quick-tempered and violent leader, Bernardo. He really looked the part with a convincing Puerto Rican accent and lots of personality. I look forward to seeing him in other leading roles in future productions.
All the actors in main speaking roles did well with an American accent. The Sharks’ gang had the added problem of playing Latinos but it held no fear for Amelia Gaughan as Bernardo’s girl, the fiery Anita, who was hugely watchable throughout.
The singing was generally of a high quality. Abigail Parry almost brought the production to a standstill with an outstanding rendition of Somewhere in the second Act.
And Romeo and Juliet? Jack Hamilton and Gabrielle Singh as the star-crossed lovers, Tony and Maria, had a real feel for their roles and produced good solid performances.
Sian Turner’s choreography was excellent. It’s not easy teaching a company with that many performers to work together, not fall over, or trip one another up – all in about 10 days - but their dancing was top notch (particularly for Mambo and America). The fight sequences were also realistic and well choreographed although I’d like to have seen a bit of blood on the victims.
This was one of The Grove’s big success stories. Their summer musicals just keep going from strength to strength. It’s hard to criticise such a remarkable production but if I had to niggle I’d say that the climax fell a bit flat, emotionally.
*This September the theatre launches its own performing arts school. The Grove Academy will take children from four to 18. For more information call 01582 884185 or visit www.grovetheatre.co.uk/take-part