This isn’t a sponsored post.
BrumHour was invited to the media and press night of West Side Story by Birmingham Hippodrome.
For Brum Radio’s Interval Theatre, Dave Massey spoke to cast and creatives of West Side Story. Listen back here:
By Dave Massey twitter.com/BrumHour
West Side Story at
Director and choreographer: Matt Hawksworth, book by Arthur Laurents, music by Leonard Bernstein and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
West Side Story is the first youth production ever created by Birmingham Hippodrome for its huge main stage and it was wonderful to be invited to the media night to review this stunning performance.
Tony (Alex Cook) and Maria (Kamilla Fernandes) are, by default, part of two rival gang groups. Maria, a Puerto Rico born immigrant has recently moved to New York City’s Upper West Side where her brother Bernando (Gibsa Bah) is the leader of the Sharks, Bernando’s girlfriend Anita (Ruby Hewitt) owns a bridal store where Maria works. Tony’s friend Riff (Matthew Pandya) is the leader of the Jets. After facing off in the street the two gangs set about having a rumble to resolve their turf war, but Tony and Maria only have love on their mind.
Inspired by Romeo and Juliet, West Side Story brings its own dimension to the classic Shakespeare tale, with dance numbers and songs that have endured over 50 years including Maria, I Feel Pretty, America and Somewhere.
Powerfully told by its talented group of homegrown talent, there are many subjects explored by this youthful cast. Gun violence, knife crime, turf war, mass shootings, sexual abuse, misogyny, ageism, homophobia and racism are all starkly touched upon at different points. There are some colourful jokes which I felt makes this unsuitable for primary age children.
I kept having to remind myself this wasn’t a “professional” cast as the young leads all have talent and charisma that would stand up on a UK Tour or in the West End, Alex Cook’s powerful vocals were simply stunning while Kamilla Fernandes vulnerable and innocent Maria draws attention whenever she appears on stage.
Semi-transparent black fabric hangs on three sides of the stage, with sixteen light strips creating both an indoor and outdoor settings, a shipping container sized box becomes a bedroom, a brick wall and a seating area. As a contrast to the fabric and lighting, several large metal poll frames create urban spaces.
The music seemed fairly in keeping with the soundtrack, full of rich tones and vibrant history of this tragic and thoughtful story. The costumes became a GAP advert (Youtube it kids!) after the interval with white vests and denim on everyone during a dream style sequence. Special shoutouts to the “adult” performers, Birmingham Hippodrome’s Chris Cooper particularly left his mark as a gruff bigoted police officer.
I love the theatres of Birmingham so much and seeing Birmingham Hippodrome put on their own uniquely flavoured youth production was very special indeed. It seems more than intimate and personal when a production is created just for the single venue it is being performed in. Normally only the Brum Panto is afforded this annual opportunity on the Hippodrome stage. Seeing the back walls of the stage and up into the rigging area really made this feel raw and new despite the very long history of the story.
The audience loved this and gave a standing ovation with loud applause throughout. I hope more homegrown productions appear in the future.
West Side Story is at Birmingham Hippodrome until 31st August. Book tickets here: birminghamhippodrome.com/calendar/west-side-story
This isn’t a sponsored post.
When not writing about theatre for BrumHour, or producing Interval Theatre for Brum Radio (Tuesdays 3pm) brumradio.com/intervaltheatre, Dave Massey can be found eating crisps and claiming to be at the gym. And tweeting about Birmingham for #BrumHour.