Leeds Youth Opera proudly presents their latest amateur production West Side Story at the Carriageworks Theatre.

This popular musical, both film and stage, is set in the 1950s in New York’s Upper West Side. Written by Arthur Laurents it is about the rivalry between the Jets, a white gang, and the Sharks, made up of Puerto Rican immigrants. The musical was composed at a time when social problems were at the forefront and they are certainly reflected in the story through music, song and dance.


It begins with a young girl, probably related to one of the past gang members, who reflects in front of the shadowy ghostly figures in a neighbourhood. This neighbourhood was promised so much but only to be forgotten...time rewinds back to 1955 and West Side Story begins.

West Side Story is considered as the modern day Romeo and Juliet with Maria and Tony falling in love and the feud intensifying between the Jets and the Sharks. Maria and Tony’s love deepens as well as the hatred between both gangs - only to be met with tragic consequences.

One must admire the brightly coloured costumes which the Sharks wear in contrast with the Jet’s conservative though modern ones. The contrast certainly stands out to whom one belongs to throughout and both Bernardo (Philip Jackson) and Riff (Alex Walker), the two gangs leader, makes sure of that. The staging is interesting; reflecting a rundown working class neighbourhood which is littered with territorial graffiti murals – works well the story and performance.

The musical has a number of catchy dance scenes including, The Dance at the Gym, America and The Rumble which are originally choreographed by Jerome Robbins. The dances are purposeful and well co-ordinated which tells a story about life in the neighbourhood individually and collectively. Despite the hatred for each other and following two deaths; the gangs physically reflect with Somewhere sung by Consuela (Katy Gordon) and the song offers contemplation and hope from each of their sides amidst the physical and figurative barriers.

The well known songs, written by Stephen Sondheim, are sung passionately and with conviction to Leonard Bernstein’s music – particularly the heartfelt Maria Tony sings and the lovers’ duet One Hand, One Heart which is sung beautifully by both Andy Powis and Ciara Booker. There is Maria and the girls’ I feel Pretty and the highly emotive A Boy Like That and I Have a Love between Anita (Rebecca Jelbert) and Maria and the catchy impersonation of Gee, Officer Krupke.

Leeds Youth Opera, under the direction of Anita Adams, has put together an excellent production with a full live orchestra at its disposal, conducted by Tom Newall. West Side Story may be considered tragic but hopeful with ‘somewhere, somehow, someday’ (from Somewhere). At the finale time fast forwards to the present to the same neighbourhood where the story took place. Again the young girl there is reminded that there are lessons to be learnt just like Shakespeare at the time when he wrote his plays.   Hope prevails throughout!

Reviewer: Dawn Smallwood

Reviewed: 6th July 2016