West Side Story

Conceived by Jerome Robbins, Book by Arthur Laurents, Music by Leonard Bernstein, Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Performed by London & Area High School Students
Directed by Susan Ferley
Grand Theatre High School Project
Grand Theatre, London
September 13-30, 2006
Reviewed by Mary Alderson

High School Project Celebrates 10th Production

Three Strathroy students are currently on stage at London’s Grand Theatre in West Side Story. Matt Grootjen, well experienced on the Grand stage, shows his exceptional acting ability playing A-Rab, a member of the Jets. Nicole Alcaidinho demonstrates her excellent dancing ability as Francisca, one of the Shark Girls. Patrick Verkley gives the drama a touch of comic relief as Gladhand, the teacher who naively thinks he can bring the two feuding factions together.

West Side Story tells a tale deeply rooted in history – it is based on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet – of two young lovers who are destined to never be together. The musical was written in the 1950’s and was considered cutting edge on Broadway at that time. But no matter that it was written 50 years ago, based on something 500 years old, it is more pertinent than ever today, as senseless killing and gang violence dominates our news.

To honour the 10th production of the Grand Theatre’s High School Project, they have brought back West Side Story, which was their first project. It’s the story of Maria (Jordy Rolfe) a Puerto Rican immigrant, who falls in love with Tony (Trevor Horman), a second generation American. The Jets, a gang of American teenage boys, is in a constant power struggle with the Sharks, The Puerto Rican immigrants’ gang. Maria’s brother Bernardo (Spencer Blake) leads the Sharks and is the boyfriend of Anita (Hayley Blyth). Riff (Eric Frank) leads the Jets, and draws Tony back into the gang. The gangs fight with violent results, leading to the story’s tragic ending.

The show has some amazing music, thanks to the Sondheim – Bernstein duo. Beautiful love songs like “Tonight” and “Somewhere”, as well as great dance numbers such as “America” and ”Cool” are part of a fantastic score.

Jordy Rolfe is excellent as Maria, singing in a clear soprano and showing anguish as the deaths unfold. Hayley Blyth as Anita handles the intense acting and exciting dance numbers superbly. It is fun to see London actor Eddie Escaf return to the stage for a cameo appearance.

The full cast singing in harmony was especially good, thanks to musical director Andrew Petrasiunus. Kudos to choreographer Jim White for the high kicking in “America”, and the snappy rhythm in “Jet Song”, as well as all the excellent dance numbers. And director Susan Ferley deserves a standing ovation for seeing the talent in these young people, and pulling it out. Her work with these teenagers is much appreciated by the cast and their parents.

West Side Story continues at the Grand Theatre in London until September 30th.. Tickets are available at the Grand box office at 672-8800 or 1-800-265-1593.

In addition, there is a Gala evening of entertainment by past & present high school project casts and crews at the Grand Theatre on Sunday, September 24, to celebrate a milestone of 10 musicals, and raise money for the Rob Wellan Memorial Scholarship Fund.

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