West Side success story for Academy

. Bo'ness Academy. School show, West Side Story.
. Bo'ness Academy. School show, West Side Story.

A pair of doomed young lovers, New York in the 1950s, Jets and Sharks, and some of the best music ever written for the stage.

It can only be West Side Story, one of the best musicals ever written and one of the most challenging to stage, sing and perform.

Do the young performers of Bo’ness Academy rise to the challenge in this week’s production at Bo’ness Town Hall? They certainly do in a way that could give older and more experienced performers pause for thought.

The story is, of course, a reworking of Romeo and Juliet, set in the hot humid streets of the slums of New York where tribal warfare is an everyday occurrence.

The Jets and their sworn enemies, the Sharks, battle it out to be top dogs. And caught up in the crossfire are Maria and Tony, who fall in love across the divide.

A love affair that was never going to end well and, sadly, it does not, with tragedy sounding the final note.

West Side Story cleverly mixes humour, jazz and Latino influenced musical numbers, and a strong story, with touching romance and heartbreaking sadness.

The Academy’s production is a pleasure from start to finish. A huge cast of 80 give the chorus numbers their absolute all, filling the stage with sound and colour and making the stunning choreography (by Amy Brownlee) feel both dynamic and exciting. What is obvious is the total commitment each one gives to the show, and that is a rare thing in a cast this size.

It takes two visits to cover all the talent onstage as some of the principal roles are double cast.

The two girls playing Maria, Ellie Williams and Erin Smith, have superb voices, and make us believe absolutely in their journey from naïve young girl to tragic heroine.

Both have the same Tony, Daniel Johnston, a sensitive actor with an excellent voice. Riff, leader of the Jets, is played by both Connor Watt and Robert Grant, again both fine young actors with engaging personalities. The role of Anita is a real showcase, particularly as she has to sing two showstopping but contrasting numbers which demand power, charisma and the ability to dance, sing, and act. Rachel Moyle and Kirsten Miller each fit the role to perfection.

Bo’ness Academy prides itself on the quality of its annual production and this one is impossible to fault.

A whirl of colour, music and emotion from start to finish, it is a credit to musical director Jan Cunningham, production team Sylvia Dow and Jane Flannagan, choreographer Amy Brownlee with her assistants Qaila Sarwar and Ammara Sarwar, and the staging and stage management team led by Hazel Graham and Louise Wyeth.