Review: West Side Story at The Grand Opera House

The Jets plan the Rumble

A massive cast of 45, many of them teenagers and they played a blinder. As Louis Walsh would say, they owned the stage. Our seats were in the Grand Opera House but we were transported to a rough neighbourhood in New York.

Two street gangs, the local Jets and the Sharks from Puerto Rico, the rivalry boils over and a Rumble is planned where a vicious fight breaks out, knives are produced and the inevitable happens. Running along side this violent plot line is the gentle romance between Tony of the Jets and Maria, sister of the leader of the Sharks, an unholy alliance with no hope of ending happily and sadly it doesn’t.

For me the main man in this production is 21 year old Jordan Walsh the director. He took a chance and left his job at Carphone Warehouse to work in the performing arts full time and he has proved his ability to bring something very special to musical theatre. I mentioned that everyone on stage was interesting to watch as they played out their characters and he told me that although there was only 6 months rehearsal in church halls and Belvoir Players Theatre in preparation for their first time on the stage of the Opera House, he worked them hard and required every cast member to write him essays on their characters development.

With Wilson Shields as musical director and choreographer Alex McFarlane the cast had the best of professionals and they rose to the occasions. The dancing and the singing was a joy, although the excellent band drowned out the dialogue at times, and a special mention for the lighting designer Declan Anthony who brought additional drama to the stage.

Amber Dixon who played Maria is only 16 years old and she had a tender relationship Tony, played by Boyd Rodgers a seasoned performer with a superb voice. Anita (Naomi Smyth) was raunchy and flamboyant and a good foil for her lover Bernardo (Vijay Sharma).

This story could be set anywhere in the world and it could be set in Belfast; the gang warfare, knife crime, the love between young people from two opposing communities, the ongoing hostility; as the bar owner says to Tony: ’Why do you live like there’s a war going on?’

The wonderful songs cone thick and fast, ‘Something’s Coming’, ‘Maria’, ‘Tonight’, ‘America,’ ‘I Feel Pretty,’ ‘Somewhere’ and the hilarious ‘Gee Officer Krupke’.

Every one of the cast deserves a mention but space forbids, I’d just say you gave me a great night at the theatre, I laughed, I cried and I had goose bumps and, like everyone else, I came away singing.

To the public, get on the phone and reserve your seat. This is an exceptionally talented company full of youth and enthusiasm and I look forward to their next production.

(There is an age recommendation 15 years plus. Children under the age of 15 must be accompanied by an adult. This is because of graphic scenes of violence amongst the gangs and to the character of Anita).

Anne Hailes

West Side Story

Belfast Music and Drama Society Grand Opera House

until Saturday 10th February 2018

Post Author: Belfast Times

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