The Lincoln Players’ take on the classic musical modern retelling of Romeo and Juliet plays homage to the perfect blend of Bernstein’s music and Sondheim’s lyrics. The cosy Michael Pilch Studio seemed an unusual and challenging setting for a large cast production, a far cry from the West Side Story we imagine from the film. Only two boards stood on the black stage as the audience entered, adorned with the scrawl of the two gangs, a marking out of territory, and setting the atmosphere for a sparse production that used the intimacy of the venue and minimal props to allow the cast the space to move and dance with ease, and showing a high quality of direction from Laura Knight. The other challenge was squeezing a band into the studio as well as an audience, but the musical director, Joe Mason, did an excellent job of reworking the score to suit a small five piece band.
The leader of the Jets, Riff (Cameron Cook) gave an engaging performance, and was well supported by his lively gang of Jets. A particular highlight was the rendition of ‘Gee, Officer Krupke!’ which was performed with all the energy it deserves. From the opening prologue the antipathy between the Sharks and the Jets was clear, with some nicely directed hostile interplay. The dancing choreography was generally effective, especially as the show progressed, with the lively Mambo at the gym leading into the surreal but touching meeting between Tony and Maria. Henry De Berker made a charming Tony, giving an excellent vocal performance and hitting a highly impressive note in ‘Maria’, while Ellie Parkes gave an enchanting performance that climaxed with an intense, heartbreaking final speech, which undoubtedly caused some welling up from the audience at the least. Mitch Byrne’s Bernardo was suitably tense, with an impressive accent, the chemistry between him and the excellent Anita (Daisy Fannin) another highlight of the show. The rest of the cast were all impressive, including the few but menacing Sharks, Doc (Patrick Reid), Shrank (Howard McDonald), and the Shark Girls whose ‘America’ and ‘I Feel Pretty’ were suitably lively and fun.
For a show that clearly had a limited budget, a very limited space, and had been put together in just five weeks, West Side Story didn’t attempt to do anything spectacular or be anything bigger than it could, but in doing so it became an enjoyable and intense production which I wish I could see again.