Much of the action is conducted through swing, such as the captivating mambo and cha cha at the glittering “Dance at the Gym” scene. Three choreographers work to provide an interesting mix of syncopated contemporary rhythms in one of the Society’s most creative productions to date. Each member of the cast stays in character while dancing to avoid the uniform block of movement that musicals are often associated with. The large orchestra, conducted expertly by Michael Evans, plays Leonard Bernstein’s music beautifully and each musician deserves much credit. The moving duets between Maria (Emily Booth) and Tony (Edward Blagrove) as the star-crossed lovers are pitch perfect.
Whilst animated classics such as ‘America’, ‘I feel Pretty’ and ‘Officer Krupke’ are belted out with grit and gusto from the cast, the audience is only too aware that Maria is heading for a fall. The tale follows that of Romeo and Juliet, with every character on stage contributing to the story of the tragedy that loving someone unconditionally can cause. Riff, the strong charismatic leader of the Jets (Alex Williams) is stabbed when Tony tries to stop him fighting with Shark leader, Bernardo. Tony lashes out and knifes Bernardo. Hot-blooded Anita (Susanne Sheehy) runs to warn Tony that Chino is out to kill him and is almost raped by the Jets for her trouble. As a parting shot Anita deceives her tormentors into believing that Maria is dead.
The spartan set of 1950’s billboards with graffiti is dimly lit and complete with city smoke creates a buzzing downtown atmosphere. The costumes add to the drama with Puerto Ricans wearing hot red colours and the self styled ‘Americans’ wearing cool neutral shades. Bernstein is quoted as saying, ‘this show can’t depend on stars, being about kids’. To celebrate their sixtieth anniversary Oxford Operatic Society have welcomed on board a raft of exciting new talent to express the heady emotions of the teenage years. They’re gonna rock it tonight!