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Behind the scenes of the Ipswich Children’s Theatre Company production of West Side Story

PUBLISHED: 08:20 23 July 2015

The Sharks are ready to rumble in Ipswich-based ctc's West Side Story

The Sharks are ready to rumble in Ipswich-based ctc's West Side Story

Archant

Bridie Rowe, artistic director of the Ipswich Children’s Theatre Company, is having trouble with the boys who make up rival gangs the Jets and the Sharks.

James Malone as BernardoJames Malone as Bernardo

Bridie Rowe, artistic director of the Ipswich Children’s Theatre Company, is having trouble with the boys who make up rival gangs the Jets and the Sharks.

“You know what boys are like at this age, I have to keep telling them during the stage fight scenes ‘stop smiling, you’re not meant to be enjoying being beaten up but they love it,” she laughs.

The Ipswich-based group’s production of West Side Story, think Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet set to show tunes, is their most ambitious yet. Set in New York’s blue-collar upper west side in the mid-1950s, former Jets gang member Tony falls for Maria, the sister of Bernardo, leader of rival gang the Sharks. Dealing with some adult themes, it’s defining show in the evolution of American musical theatre.

Rowe says everybody - herself, choreographer Sam Patching and musical director Alan Humphrey included - have had to step it up for this show, running at Ipswich’s New Wolsey Theatre July 22-25.

The Sharks' rivals the JetsThe Sharks' rivals the Jets

“It’s our most challenging show... It’s one of my all-time favourites. It’s so wonderfully written, the music’s beautiful and the characters are just so meaty so there’s so much for the cast to do. Obviously you’ve got the Puerto Rican accents, mature issues you don’t necessarily deal with as a teenager necessarily; it’s a big ask. This is Bernstein, he likes to make it challenging.”

The show, she admits, is more is the most intense, most passionate, they’ve ever done too. The trick is selling Tony and Maria’s love story while keeping it appropriate for the 48-strong case of 14-21 year olds.

“The love story is so important, you have to believe it. Obviously we have to remain sensitive they cast are young. That scene at the end, with Anita, can be quite shocking in adult companies. Obviously we’re not able to do that, so that’s taken some time to work on and we keep tweaking it.

“It’s important for the cast to feel comfortable, I’ve kept checking all the way through ‘are you comfortable to do this’ and trying to find ways around it, ways of getting that same feeling across.”

Peter Whisenant as RiffPeter Whisenant as Riff

Despite being forced to postpone its production of Joseph and the Amazing Techicolour Dreamcoat due to the professional tour’s recent visit, Rowe says they’re more ahead prep-wise than usual. All that’s left now is a bit of polishing.

In another first, ctc members and friends have made the set, complete with scaffolding and cool fencing that whooshes in and out.

West Side Story may be consuming Rowe’s life at the moment she laughs, but there’s still time to start work on Joseph.

“We haven’t cast yet, we’re going to that in September. We’ve been to The Apex for a meeting, we’ve booked our MD and our musicians are starting to be booked in that sort but no, as soon as West Side’s finished I’m sure the next day I’ll be like ‘oh so’...”

Read the review online tomorrow.


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