Love and death. Romance and rivalry. Welcome to West Side Story, the Queensland Conservatorium’s main stage musical for 2017.
The show, which turns 60 this year, headlines the Queensland Conservatorium’s 60th anniversary line-up.
Hailed as ‘the greatest musical of all time’, the show features a Grammy-winning score by legendary composer Leonard Bernstein and lyricist Stephen Sondheim, including hits like Maria, America, Somewhere and Tonight.
Inspired by Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, West Side Story is set in New York’s Upper West Side in the mid-1950s where racial and social tensions have reached boiling point.
The blockbuster production will feature a triple cast, comprising the entire musical theatre cohort, accompanied by the Queensland Conservatorium Symphony Orchestra.
Final year Bachelor of Musical Theatre student Courtney Monsma is one of three students playing the lead role of Maria.
“It is a dream role,” she says.
“It is amazing to be on stage in the Conservatorium Theatre with a huge set, an orchestra, costumes… it’s what I’ve been working towards for years.”
The talented singer has just won a place in the ensemble cast of Mamma Mia! ,which will tour nationally later this year.
“I wouldn’t have had the confidence to audition for Mamma Mia! if not for this course,” she said.
“You have so much support and are so well prepared, and West Side Story is a great stepping stone to a professional production.
“I will do the first run of Mamma Mia! in Canberra, and then make it back to Brisbane just in time for graduation!”
Musical theatre student Grady Swithenbank is one of the students taking on the male lead, Tony.
“I grew up in a small country town near Perth, and one of the first big musicals I saw was a student production of West Side Story,” he says.
“It’s such a classic story and I already knew all of the songs – I was thrilled when I scored this role.
“It’s vocally demanding and such a complex role, but I think Tony is struggling with the kind of things that all guys my age deal with – becoming a man, the pressures of staying loyal to your friends, falling in love for the first time.”
Grady relocated halfway across the country to study musical theatre at the Queensland Conservatorium.
The move has paid off – with the opportunity to work with industry professionals, tour interstate and hone his craft at a host of iconic venues around town.
Fellow final-year musical theatre student Maddison McDonald is playing Anita – a part she describes as “the sassy best friend role”.
Maddison admits that West Side Story is the most demanding show she has ever tackled.
“It is the kind of show that really stretches you as a performer,” she says.
“Anita has crazy dance numbers, big songs and a huge character arc – you really have to be at the top of your game.”
Maddison says that students have benefitted from having a “dream creative team”.
The production will be directed by musical theatre impresario and Brisbane Powerhouse Artistic Director Kris Stewart and choreographed by Christopher Horsey – a founding member of Tap Dogs.
“It is incredible working with both of them – they are both awesome teachers, but also have decades of industry experience to draw on.”
Mr Stewart said he was excited to work with the Queensland Conservatorium musical theatre students.
“This production will give the students a chance to tackle one of the biggest shows in the musical theatre canon,” he said.
“It will be an extraordinary challenge, but if you want to test yourself as an artist and hone your skills, you have to shoot for the stars.”
Mr Stewart said that audiences were in for a treat, with the production featuring a full dance ensemble and symphony.
“It’s a rare chance to see the show as it was intended,” he said.
“It is difficult to do in a standard commercial production.”
“We have an incredibly talented group of young performers who are tackling some of musical theatre’s most iconic roles, show-stopping songs and dazzling dance numbers,” he said.
It’s the type of opportunity given to students throughout their degree at the Queensland Conservatorium Griffith University that ensures they become well-rounded performers.
“It’s vital they leave us with the skill set that will enable them to tackle any role, on any stage,” says Associate Professor Sabey.
“A show like West Side Story gives them the chance to work with industry professionals and perform on the main stage in front of a wider audience.”
WHAT: West Side Story
WHEN: 27 Jul to 5 August 2017
WHERE: Queensland Conservatorium Theatre, 140 Grey Street, South Bank
WHEN: 1pm Wed / 2:30pm Sat / 7:30pm, Thu, Fri, Sat
TICKETS: $15-$45 from Qtix