Loft plays Bernstein

West Side Story, Loft Theatre, Leamington, until December 15.

AN ambitious production for the Loft and some nerves were in evidence on Wednesday, the first night, along with a few gremlins in the sound system.

But there were also lots of hopeful signs, not least a truly moving rendition of ‘Somewhere’ by Zoe Chamberlain and a cracking ‘Gee, Officer Krupke’ from Lucy Maxwell and the gang.

I would have liked to see more punch and confidence in the Jets’ opening number, but guess that will come as the run progresses.

Star-crossed lovers Kelsey Checklin - who makes her Loft debut playing Maria - and Chris Gilbey-Smith (Tony) worked well together, contrasting the light and shade of scenes at the dance, in the bridal shop and on the rooftops with the tensions mounting around them.

I felt Kelsey relaxed more in her ‘I Feel Pretty’ ensemble piece with the girls, despite the occasional headset malfunction. Inevitably, her closing scenes with Tony brought tears to my eyes.

Riff, gang leader of the Jets (Daniel Murray) did some well-choreographed fighting with Bernardo (Doublas Gilbey-Smith) who moved and sang well and his interactions with Anita, played by Charlotte Brooks, were often a pleasure.

For me the fiesty role of Anita is always key to West Side Story and Charlotte was more than a match for it with the fabulous ‘America’ and ‘A Boy Like That’ sung with the show’s live orchestra baracaded to one side, just inside the wings.

At times it seemed the stage was too small for all the action. But then this athletic young company was able to make full use of the stark and effective set by climbing up the scenery to create some memorable imagery.

None of them would have been born when Leonard Bernstein composed the music and an unknown Stephen Sondheim wrote some of his first lyrics.

Director Tim Willis may not have got the best from his slightly unsure cast on the first night but this is a long and already heavily-booked production and all the signs are there for a great run. Verdict: Cast needs to keep calm and loosen up a little.

Barbara Goulden