After Scotch College triumphantly stormed the barricades last year with their production of Les Miserable, it was going to be interesting to see how they would fare this year with their version of West Side Story. Under the expert leadership of director Adam Goodburn, musical director Antony Hubmeyer and choreographer Linda Williams, the students solidly march through the streets of the Upper West side of New York City to unquestionable victory.
Goodburn, Hubmeyer and Williams have the knack of taking that much dreaded phrase ‘school production’, hurling it on the floor, trampling on it and then flinging it out the window and producing instead theatrical magic with a vibrant, energetic cast of young students.
Director Goodburn makes sure that each player understands the nuances of their character: this is particularly noticeable in the often-overplayed role of Detective Schrank. Young Quinn Martin finds subtleties and variations in the role that nicely underplay the required bullying and bigotry of the character. Another often overlooked role that stands out because of the actor understanding the inner layers of his character is that of Doc, played by adult Reverend Scott Magann – his is a perfect portrayal.
Williams’ choreography is as inventive, exciting and tight as always – and extremely well executed by all cast members. Hubmeyer gets good vocals out of his cast from songs that are not all that easy for seasoned singers, let alone youngsters. On opening night however, the orchestra didn’t fare as well, with the brass seeming to suffer from an attack of nerves in the harder passages.
As Maria, authentically accented Tiana Catalano is superb with an incredibly beautiful operatic voice well above her age, and blends well with Benji Riggs giving one of his usual strong performances as Tony. Both make ‘falling in love at first sight’ a believable reality, rather than a tired old cliché.
Backing Catalano up on the Puerto Rican side are Tahlia Fantone (Anita), Tom Goldsmith (Bernardo) and Harrison Buckland-Crook (Chino). Fantone gives a powerhouse performance well worthy of her famous adult counterparts, Chita Rivera, Rita Moreno and Caroline O’Connor (with her Act II duet with Catalano simply mesmerizing); with Goldsmith making Bernardo proud of his heritage whilst giving him a nice sense of dark, brooding frustration, and Buckland-Crook playing Chino well as a sympathetic victim (rather than the little hood he’s usually made out to be).
There are probably not enough words to describe the wonderful performances of the Jets – Kyle Hall (Action), Wade Lindstrom (A-Rab), Tom Russell (Baby John), Jack Conroy (Snow Boy) and Ben Francis (Diesel). All these boys are iridescent light bulbs continually sparking and shining throughout the entire performance. Their version of show stopper ‘Gee, Officer Krupke’ is magnificent, allowing all involved to show off their comedic talents to the hilt. Their versatility is also well showcased when they later become realistically threatening. This reviewer was particularly impressed with Francis – having seen him only do comedy roles extremely well, it’s heartening to see that he can do serious ones with as much dedication and ability.
As the Jets’ leader Riff, Lachlan Williams shows an excellent strength of leadership that belies his innocent face and makes the Act I finale just that more poignant.
With a large cast such as this, it’s impossible to mention all; but rest assured everyone, from those roles not mentioned to each member of the ensemble, have cause to be very proud.
To sum up: this reviewer normally does not like West Side Story, but would gladly see this production again.
Reviewed by Brian Godfrey
Venue: Fisher Chapel, Scotch College Carruth Road, Torrens Park
Season: 31 July – 3 August 2013
Duration: 2.5hrs including interval
Tickets: From $20
Bookings: 8274 4210
Photo by Tim Allan Media of The Jets (Left to right): Wade Lindstrom, Ben Francis, Tom Russell, Lachlan Williams and Jack Conroy (and Kyle Hall hidden)