As we rushed in to the Drama Studio to escape a dismal Wednesday evening, we were immediately welcomed with the low overture of the orchestra; an uplift to spirits in itself as well as an exciting setting for the evening’s tone. Finding our seats in the cosy theatre having been greeted by a number of performers in character, we were now eager with anticipation. We were not about to be disappointed.
A Sheffield University Performing Arts Society production, West Side Story, a spin on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet has long been a cult musical in itself. The story centres on a controversial relationship amidst a fierce race-based gang rivalry in 1950s New York; which in typical Shakespearean fashion, involves a significant amount of tragedy along the way. Whilst classics such as this are safe bets for drawing crowds in, they are seldom as simple when it comes to ensuring that the well-known story is still told in a refreshing and relevant way. Thankfully SUPAS managed to achieve this, and then some. The cast were brilliant, making the traditional story very funny with what seemed like little effort. A personal highlight was the performance of the satirical song ‘Gee Officer Krupkee’ from American gang ‘The Jets’, which was carried out with impressive skill, paying homage to the tongue in cheek nature of the film’s version whilst managing to make it their own.
Having never attended a SUPAS event in the past, we were unaware and therefore pleasantly impressed to find the calibre of the actors to be extremely high, and were particularly enthralled with the well-rounded performance of Naomi Bailey as Puerto Rican migrant Anita. However, it wasn’t just the performers whose talent shone through. The orchestra were phenomenal and contributed significantly to the overall feel of the play, causing tension in the right places and creating the incredible songs that made the entire show, a backing track couldn’t possibly have competed. It was also evident that the choreography was extremely well designed and rehearsed; the dances were exciting and professional. ‘Dance at the Gym’, a dance off between the two gangs found to be particularly entertaining, a light-hearted piece before the serious side to the story comes into full swing.
It was clear from beginning to end that not only were SUPAS very talented, but that they were enjoying it as much as the audience were, which only made the whole experience more gratifying. Leaving the studio singing, the grim weather quickly reminded us that we were back in rainy Sheffield. Never has the tune ‘I like to be in America’ been sung so emphatically. Suffice to say two hours in 1950s New York had been a blast.
Words by Emily Griffiths