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Jets and Sharks bring curtain up

PUBLISHED: 10:51 24 December 2008 | UPDATED: 15:53 25 August 2010

To publicise the opening of its new theatre, Alleyn s School in Dulwich staged one of the most critically acclaimed musicals of the twentieth century, writes Mark Campbell. The Michael Croft Theatre is named after the founder of the National Youth Theat

To publicise the opening of its new theatre, Alleyn's School in Dulwich staged one of the most critically acclaimed musicals of the twentieth century, writes Mark Campbell.

The Michael Croft Theatre is named after the founder of the National Youth Theatre and a former teacher at the school. It's a spacious, high-ceilinged venue, ideally suited to Leonard Bernstein's fusion of opera and musical theatre that is West Side Story.

With no set to speak of, director Drew Stocker had strategic objects lowered from the flies - such as shop dummies or road signs - to indicate the shifting locations in 1950s New York.

The 11-piece professional band, conducted by Tim Kermode, filled the auditorium with Bernstein's gorgeous music, which flits from serious to operatic to jazz at the flick of a baton.

Bearing in mind that the cast was made up solely of sixth-form students, it would perhaps be too much to expect that this extremely challenging work met every expectation.

The principals' singing, although generally very good, did occasionally falter over the higher notes.

But that didn't stop songs such as America and I Feel Pretty making a real impact, helped by Ben Roose's dramatic lighting and Adam Zivanic's and Maria Georgiou's choreography, not forgetting Eleanor Wells' flamboyant costume designs.

The story of star-crossed lovers from rival Manhattan gangs - a loose interpretation of Romeo and Juliet - was brought closer to home by the producers' anti-knife crime agenda.

The programme contained statistics of teenagers killed in London (28 this year alone) and a plea to inform police if you knew someone with a weapon.

Considering the age of the performers, this made the evening even more relevant.

Sam Hayward (Tony), Annabel Medland (Maria), Victoria Verbi (Anita) and Barney Eliot (Bernardo) gave committed performances, while the large chorus of Jets, Sharks and Angels filled the stage with colour and movement.

The balcony scene could've been more dramatically staged, but otherwise this was an entertaining production and an excellent way to christen the new building.

The next production at the Michael Croft Theatre is Silas Marner by George Eliot, performed by the Middle School from February 10-12. Tickets: 020 8557 1488.

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