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West Side Story gets SMuTy

The Cast of WestSide Story

The Cast of West Side Story

Sunday morning: a time of quiet on campus, a time of slow awakenings,  of peaceful (and dozy) reminiscences of the past week, a time to look forward (or not) to the next 7 days. Sundays are the students’ Sabbath; a day off. Unless, of course, you’re either a member of the university’s musical society (SMuTS), rehearsing the up and coming production of ‘West Side Story’, or a Badger reporter writing a feature on them.
I climb the back stairs to Mandela Hall and step through the open door. Inside, a chaotic hubbub greets me, with dancing and singing practice already underway. Despite the fact that I’ve never been to any rehearsals here before, or even met most of the people involved, it’s easy to get drawn into the day’s activities.
First, I get talking with the musical’s director, Jessica Nathan, and ask her about her decision to perform ‘West Side Story’. Why not any other from the catalogue of hit musicals available?
“We were interested in doing ‘The Fiddler on the Roof’ before Christmas, but after discussing it, we thought it wouldn’t appeal to as many people as something like ‘West Side Story’. Our biggest worry was that no boys would want to audition. But as a matter of fact, when it came to auditions, so many guys wanted parts that, for the first time, we had to turn some away.” Surely an exciting sign that SMuTS is becoming more popular and accessible. Jessica also tells me that several members of this cast have worked in the West End and appeared on TV, attesting to the considerable talent of the group.
Auditions for the production took place in week two of this term, leaving only a short and intense period for the cast and crew to prepare before opening night in week six. When I manage to corner the lead actor and actress, Doug Reid (Tony) and Carole Cassidy (Maria). Doug admits that although it is “exciting playing the lead in such an important production for us”, it is also all “quite hectic”.
Given the famously romantic nature of ‘West Side Story’, and the fact that  Valentine’s Day will fall during its production, wouldn’t it be exciting if there was a little romance behind the scenes too? Doug is quick to clear this up for me: he’s married. So stolen kisses behind the curtain are out of the question for him; here’s hoping the extras are able to step in with some amorous antics in his place…
Lack of off-stage romance aside, Carole is very happy with her co-lead: “Doug and I get on really well. Performing such a key role with someone I feel comfortable with is important.” She’s also quite excited about putting on a (sexy) Spanish accent – something for the men (and women) in the audience to look forward to.
Scott Sheridan is the musical director of the production. More observant readers will remember him from the cover of the Badger a couple of weeks ago, pictured in his alternative role of USSU Activities Officer. For such a key member of the production, one who must be under considerable stress, Scott remains chipper. During one tricky bar of music that the band struggles to get ‘just right’, (it takes several tries), perseverance and patience triumph and they eventually get it. He turns to me, grinning: “We are a good band… sometimes…”
Modesty is the best policy. However, despite this minor hiccup, the band is actually very well-practised, keeping perfectly in time. The short piece played at the start of the first act is charming and engaging; exactly what a musical band should be.
As the band dies down and the first scene unfolds before me, I find myself absorbed. There is room for improvement of course – this is a rehearsal after all – but for the most part, the cast is ready. The actors are confident, the choreography is well-executed, and the singing is impeccable. All in all, it reminds me once again how entertaining and exciting musical theatre can be.
Naturally, such a romantic story also makes that most doe-eyed of celebrations – Valentine’s Day – spring to mind. A time to appreciate love in all its forms: girlfriends, boyfriends, blind dates and Ann Summers. Or, for the musically-inclined, being part of an exceptional group like SMuTS.
‘West Side Story’ opens on 17 February at Sallis Benney Theatre, running for five shows (four evening shows and one matinee), and closing on 20 February. So if you’re still wallowing in post-Valentine bliss with your significant other, or you haven’t yet convinced yourself that it’s okay to be alone, then get yourself a ticket (from Falmer House reception desk) and come along.

James Duffield

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