The same year the beautiful and tragic Natalie Wood starred in the film version of the Broadway hit West Side Story, a small group of Bayside theatre and music enthusiasts pooled their resources to open the Savoyards Musical Comedy Society.
Wood’s star went out 20 years later when in 1981 she accidentally drowned at sea off Catalina Island, but Savoyards have been performing musical comedy to Baysiders for the past 43 years. And they are good at it.
Their production of the classic star-crossed lovers in West Side Story is staged at the very swanky Iona College auditorium.
Savoyard devotees and newcomers are treated to director Jack Bradford at his best. The fast pace and addictive rhythm is set from the opening scene where the Jets street gang, led by Christopher C. Thomas (as Riff and understudy to the male lead, Tony) take the audience by the throat and let them know they are in for serious musical theatre. The Jets and their street foes the Sharks’ male dancers have been whipped into shape by choreographer Sue Harvey, who has had 25 years as principal of the Sue Harvey Dance Studio. Every player on the stage is on the spot, pretty much every time. If anything, they crowd the small stage area with their acrobatic routines. The female dancers are slightly slicker than the men but as a troupe it’s hard to fault this performance.
Located off stage the accomplished orchestra has all the hallmarks of conductor Geoff Secomb’s years of experience in musical theatre. This performance is Secomb’s eighth as musical director for Savoyards and he gets the arrangements just right perhaps the sound volume is a tad high for the auditorium but the score iss beautifully presented. Both the cello (Amber Augustin) and the French horn (Brian Morrison) are especially notable for their interpretations.
Destined to love and lose, female lead Cara Dickie as Maria is ooh! so convincing as the forbidden younger sister of Sharks’ tough guy Chino. Dickie shows she has the range and stage presence to take on this difficult vocal role. She is a delight.
The object of her affections, Jets’ hero Tony, played by seasoned opera soloist Mattias Lower, did not show his full range on opening night. Lower has an impressive track record, including stints with Opera Queensland and Opera Australia but was badly cast as Tony.
But convincing as the not-so-quietly-suffering Anita, girlfriend to Chino, Sherryl-Lee Secomb is superb. Her classical vocal training and extensive performance history in musicals make her one of the stars. As is Queensland Conservatorium classical voice student Scott Muller as 2IC to the Jets gang. Muller’s stage dominance perfectly complements his strong vocal ability.
The players’ accents are mostly on the money as well just a few understandable slip-ups. I got the impression some of the younger performers were more comfortable with the downtown Manhattan street lingo than they might be with their native dialect.
Veteran actors Harold Littler, as Doc, and Terry Annesley as Officer Shrank give, as one would expect, polished performances. Littler and Annesley have pretty much done it all in stage and performing and in Annesley’s case, film, television and radio as well.