REVIEW: Unity College finds its voice with ‘West Side Story’

Cast of West Side Story at Unity College in Bunrley.'Photo Ben Parsons
Cast of West Side Story at Unity College in Bunrley.'Photo Ben Parsons

IT is one of the most enduring love stories of modern times.

West Side Story is an adaptation of the classic romantic tragedy of Romeo and Juliet which sees two star-crossed lovers caught up in a feud between two warring New York gangs.

The challenging Broadway production, set in the 1950s in the midst of a turf war between the American Jets gang and Puerto Rican rivals the Sharks, was taken on by Unity College.

With director Dave Warren at the helm, the Burnley school created a show that will make you fall in love with this timeless musical once more.

The stage production is big, brash and bursting with energy right from the very first scene when the Jets and Sharks tussle in a boisterous street fight.

The tone is set by Jets leader Riff, played by Brandon Ingles, and his gang of young hoodlums who bounce off each other with quick-fire dialogue, jaunty New York accents and authentic 50s slang.

Enter former jets member Tony, played by the impressive Jack Herbert, who has left the gang lifestyle behind looking for a new start.

We get our first glimpse of Herbert’s dexterous voice when his character Tony sings the song “Something’s Coming” and it only gets better.

However, one of the best scenes in the whole show sees the American and Puerto Rican teenagers face off at a dance which involves most of the huge cast of pupils.

It is a dazzling and dynamic swirl of colours and twirling skirts which was brilliantly choreographed and seemlessly executed.

The live orchestra, recruited specially by the school, gave a real big band feel to show and added a rich dimension to underscore an already professional performance.

At the dance, Tony meets Puerto Rican beauty Maria, played by the accomplished Lisa-Marie Ashworth and the pair fall head over heels in love.

But Maria’s brother Bernardo, played by the menacing Ty Rochester-Taylor, reacts furiously at their forbidden love which fires them on a collision course for trouble.

As Tony and Maria’s love blossoms, the simmering hostilities of the Sharks and Jets come to fruition with a viscerally portrayed gang fight which ends in tragedy.

This is a play that blends light-hearted humour and wit with real touching moments that the deft cast execute with aplomb.

Lisa-Marie Ashworth’s character Maria shines during the poignant moments of the musical as does Herbert’s character Tony.

But it is the all-singing, all-dancing element that the Unity cast does so well. Songs like “America” and “I Feel Pretty”, performed by the Shark girls, really bring the performance to life led by the stunning voice of Alice Butterworth.

However, the biggest cheer of the evening came from “Gee, Officer Krupke” which was wonderfully performed by Action, A-rab, Diesel, Baby John and the Jets.

With West Side Story you feel that Unity College has really found its voice and Burnley cannot help but sit up and listen.