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REVIEW: West Side Story at Yarm Princess Alexandra Auditorium

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We welcome guest reviewer Alex Hall to the North East Theatre Guide. Many thanks for this review Alex.

West Side Story
Yarm Princess Alexandra Auditorium
Until Saturday 8th April 2017

Director and Choreographer JOANNE HAND
Musical Director NIGEL BALL

I've just worked out that I've now seen the last 16 of Darlington Operatic Society's shows. It was probably after the first three that I realised the incredibly high production values were not merely good luck, or the consequence of planets being in harmony, but the result of a company which prides itself on consistently professional standards.

This week at the Princess Alexandra auditorium ( a temporary home while their usual venue, the former Darlington Civic theatre enjoys a refurb) West Side Story opened to a packed house. It's a show that consistently tops the charts in those Channel 4 bank holiday offerings, listing the Nation's Favourite Musical.  It's never been one of my favourites. I mean, I know how it ends and I don't much like being seen in public with mascara running down my cheeks.

Photo: Scott Akoz
But tonight, (Tonight. Yes I know.) I saw this show in a very different light.  Usually acclaimed for its high energy and glorious tunes and yes, they were all there. And beautifully performed. But for me the greatest joy was in the the stillness. There were moments of tenderness and of tension,  when this wonderful company came together to create moments of absolute truth. It can be easy for the singing and dancing to dwarf the acting, but the mature performances brought out every tiny, heartbreaking subtlety. Neil Harland as Tony and Rhiannon Walker as Maria had such chemistry which,  along with excellent vocals made for some very moving duets.
There isn't a weak link in the cast and I shouldn't really single anyone out.  But hey, Ben Connor really deserves every plaudit as Riff. I've enjoyed watching him grow up over the last few years from a bright and talented little chap to a confident young performer with great comedy bones, who oozes presence and can hold the audience in the palm of his hand.

Photo: Scott Akoz
The choreography was wonderful, as you'd expect from Jo Hand who also directs. Costumes were just right, the set was spot on and respectful enough to know its place and not detract from the action. The orchestra, under the leadership of Nigel Ball, did full justice to the beautiful score. Always tricky after such an emotional ending, the elegant and restrained curtain call was perfectly pitched with a final rendition of the entire company singing Somewhere, which started off a capella , then soared to a glorious climax, loud enough to drown the sobs of this emotionally drained member of the audience. Congratulations Darlington Operatic Society, you've done it again.

Review by Alex Hall

Darlington Operatic Society presents West Side Story at the Princess Alexandra Auditorium in Yarm from Tuesday 4 to Saturday 8 April. Tickets are £16 for adults and £12 for children (14 and under) and are on sale now by calling the ticket hotline on 01325 244 659 or by booking online at

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