PICTURES: Buxton Opera House’s milestone West Side Story production

The girls of West Side Story in rehearsals.
The girls of West Side Story in rehearsals.

Buxton Opera House is putting on a milestone production of West Side Story this week, featuring a cast made up from young people in the community.

It has been many years since anything on this scale has been attempted at the theatre, and tonight (Wednesday) will see the curtain rise for the first of a five-night run.

Paul Kerryson, executive director at Buxton Opera House and director of the musical, is excited for the cast and to see everyone’s hard work come together.

He said: “It has been a very long time since a production like this happened at the opera house so it really is something special.

“When I started here I made it my priority to put the community first and I wanted to engage with them and encourage more talent which may have not been discovered to come forward.”

Open auditions were held in October and the 50-strong cast, aged between 16 and 29, has been working hard learning lines, songs and dance routines. The full set was only put in place last week.

Paul said: “West Side Story is a challenging but much-loved musical which has stood the test of time and is accessible for all generations.

“We have taken people who may never have been on the stage and turned them into performers, and that is something I am really proud of and I hope they are too.

“Everyone has worked so hard, they have given up their time and come to rehearsals and been so quick to learn everything. It has been a joy to be a part of.”

This year marks the 60th anniversary year since West Side Story premiered in 1957, with its dynamic music by Leonard Bernstein and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim telling the tale of star-crossed lovers from different social backgrounds.

Paul said it was the perfect choice for Buxton Opera House to help celebrate the work with a new production.

He said: “The legacy of this production, not just for the cast but for the audience too, will live on and this will be remembered for years to come.

“I want the memory of playing to a sell-out Buxton Opera House to stay with the cast and the buzz and excitement which goes with being on stage too.

“For me it is really important to build a relationship with the community you work in. The theatre and the arts are for everyone to enjoy and this production shows that.”

And Paul, who directed the touring smash-hit Hairspray, said the cast members he has compiled for West Side Story have certainly excelled themselves.

He said: “What is special about this production is, while grassroots talent has always been supported, performances may have been for a night or two in the Pavilion Arts Centre. Our cast have been able to draw on the knowledge from people in the industry and are performing in the nationally acclaimed opera house, and so far tickets have tipped 3,000 which just proves there is a real excitement about a production like this which takes a chance on people.”

One of the opera house’s volunteers is passionate about West Side Story and has helped the next generation get ready for their performance.

May Falby, who is now aged in her 70s, was an arts student when the musical premiered in London and has kept a scrapbook of her favourite production - which includes original programmes and photographs of the original cast.

Paul added: “She is so wonderful and such a fountain of knowledge about West Side Story and really enthusiastic about making sure our cast members are as fully prepared as they can be.”

n West Side Story is on at Buxton Opera House until Sunday.

Tickets, priced £18 to £22, are available from 
buxtonoperahouse.org.uk/event/west-side-story or by calling 01298 72190.