The University of Portsmouth’s Dramatical and Musical Society has been hard at work since September, rehearsing every week to put on what is hoped to be the best show of the society yet. West Side Story is considered a classic in the musical theatre community. Written by the world-renowned Leonard Bernstein, Stephen Sondheim and Arthur Laurents, it is a re-telling of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet set in 1950s New York. Two rival gangs – the Jets and the Sharks – are fighting over territory on the streets of the West Side and eventually decide to arrange a war council to finally decide who belongs where.
Of course, there are always complications. Tony, the ex-leader of the Jets, meets Maria, sister of Bernardo, the leader of the Sharks, at the highly-anticipated dance. It’s a charming love at first sight moment. They forget about everyone else at the dance and see only each other. The down side? Bernardo isn’t happy about the arrangement and chaos ensues.
The 40+ person cast is made up of a wide range of students from across the university, including those from the field of Law, Linguistics, English Literature (and that’s just naming some of the many examples):
Tony, played by Thomas Rogers
Maria, played by Sara Shuhaiber
Riff, played by Brad Curran
Bernardo, played by James Cronin
Anita, played by Zara Lackenby-Brown
Sara Shuhaiber, our Maria, says, “I’m a first year Musical Theatre student and am so looking forward to playing such an iconic role on stage. Previously, I have played parts in Grease, Macbeth and The Wind in the Willows in Sixth Form. I also write my own songs and I hope to perform them somewhere in the near future. I’ve been having a wonderful time rehearsing and am very excited to see how the show will turn out. I hope everyone will enjoy it as much as I enjoy being part of our brilliant cast!”
West Side Story is famous for its choreography (originally by Jerome Robbins) and complex dance arrangements. A team of four choreographers – Eleanor Harvey, Jessica Lavis, Imogen Slade and Rosie Walton have come together to train the cast and create original dances. Perhaps the most complex routine is the ‘Mambo’ in Act 1, in which almost every cast member dances on the stage at once, closely followed by ‘America’, where Anita tries to convince her friend, Rosalia, that living in America is better than living in their native Puerto Rico. These dances are combined with both tense and uplifting scenes directed by Jack Usherwood.
Coincidentally, West Side Story debuted on Broadway on September 26th, 1957 and celebrated its 60th anniversary on the day of the cast’s first rehearsal. A good omen, perhaps?
Our producer, Jack Usherwood, had a few words to say on his role in the production: “My previous experience of working in theatre has mainly been through performing, and working on smaller productions as a key figure in the devising process. West Side Story has been a completely new challenge for me and one that is thoroughly enjoyable, as I get to work with a large cast with a variety of skills. This version of the musical will present the classic story in a slightly different way, with a twist on the famous ballet sequence. It is exciting to be able to implement my artistic vision on a show such as this.”
The show’s performances will be at 7:30pm on Thursday 8th, Friday 9th and Saturday 10th March as well as an extra matinee performance at 2:30pm on the Saturday at the New Theatre Royal, Guildhall Walk. Tickets cost £11-15 with an early bird offer (up to January 31st) of £2 off and £2 off for students. Book your tickets online at https://www.newtheatreroyal.com/performances/west-side-story/ or by calling the box office on 023 9264 9000.