West Side Story, a simply stunning production from Harrogate Grammar School

16 December 2013

Harrogate Grammar School presented West Side Story for three evenings in The Forum last week to packed houses. The show sold out well in advance of the performances and the audience showed their absolute delight at the work of the cast, orchestra and crew by giving standing ovations every night!

Preparations began back in July, allowing the cast and orchestra to familiarise themselves with Bernstein’s very difficult score over the summer holidays and the company of over 100 year 8 to 13 students have rehearsed with the Performing Arts Faculty tirelessly throughout this term in preparation for what is universally accepted as one of the hardest musicals to put on.

Set in New York, the Jets are a gang who work hard to protect “their territory” and are not happy when the Sharks arrive in America fresh from Puerto Rico trying to take over “their turf”. This passionate story, an adaptation of Shakespeare’s’ Romeo and Juliet, encompasses gang war fare, love and loss but ultimately tells the story of mankind learning to live together despite differences.

The cast and orchestra were dressed in black with the only differences shown in the colour of bandana: Jets in red, sharks in blue. The bandanas were symbolically removed in the last moments of the performance to show that really, we are all the same, no matter where we are from or what our colour, race or religion. This was the theme that the Harrogate Grammar School students wanted to portray particularly leaving the audience with a very clear message at the end of the show.

The whole cast of West Side Story, students from years 8 to 13 of Harrogate Grammar School
The whole cast of West Side Story, students from years 8 to 13 of Harrogate Grammar School

Conducted by Andy Kemp, the orchestra tackled the extremely difficult score with confident aplomb, polish and finesse, they were simply amazing throughout the whole production especially with playing 7ft in the air due to the fantastically designed 2-tier stage set. The cast were super too. Led by Riff, played by Owain Talbot who has been a member of the National Youth Theatre for several years, the Jets were strong, angry and full of teenage angst, clinging on to what they know; they consistently delivered big numbers including Cool and the hilarious Officer Krupke. The theme of youth being misunderstood was matched by the Sharks, led by Oliver Thomlinson and Milly Downing (Bernardo and Anita), especially during songs like the electric America…. choreographed in shopping trollies!

William Eley and Sophia Metcalfe played the star crossed lovers Tony and Maria with style, honesty and truth taking the audience on a massive journey throughout the production leaving even the strongest of audience members in tears. The simple set of bins, ladders and scaffolding enabled the Harrogate Grammar School Stage Crew to show off their technical skills by creating the different places and times through very clever lighting.

Tony (Will Eley - Year 13) and Maria (Sophia Metcalfe – Year 10) when Tony is shot in the ‘Finale’ of West Side Story
Tony (Will Eley – Year 13) and Maria (Sophia Metcalfe – Year 10) when Tony is shot in the ‘Finale’ of West Side Story

As part of our alliance with local primary schools on the Monday before the evening performances, a full dress rehearsal was carried out to Rossett Acre and Western, the audience of 280 pupils were completely enthralled and captivated by the show.

All-in-all, a simply stunning production in which the whole company shone!

Written by Jack Mockford, Year 13 student.

Main photograph: Tony (Will Eley – Year 13) and Maria (Sophia Metcalfe – Year 10) singing ‘Tonight’ from West Side Story

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