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A long way from the West Side

Lead character Nicola Hall playing Maria (back left) Kate Graham, Tamina Koehne-Drube and Beth Deer perform an excerpt from the musical West Side Story.

Lead character Nicola Hall playing Maria (back left) Kate Graham, Tamina Koehne-Drube and Beth Deer perform an excerpt from the musical West Side Story. Photo: Katherine Griffiths

Nouveau Riche Bridal and Evening Wear in Queanbeyan is a long way from New York City's West Side. But it provided an appropriate setting for a performance of I Feel Pretty yesterday. The exuberant number from West Side Story is set in a bridal shop and depicts the joy of the lovestruck Puerto Rican girl Maria (played by Nicola Hall) as her friends Conseula (Tamina Koehne-Drube), Francisca (Kate Graham) and Rosalia (Beth Deer) fondly mock her.

Free-Rain Theatre Company is presenting the musical, with a book by Arthur Laurents, music by Leonard Bernstein and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, at the Queanbeyan Performing Arts Centre from February 8.

It's based on Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, but transposed to the streets of New York City. Rival street gangs - the long-established white Jets and the newly arrived Puerto Rican Sharks - fight for turf as one of the Jets, Tony (Lachlan Whan) falls in love with Maria, sister of the leader of the Sharks.

Lead character Nicola Hall playing Maria and Lachlan Whan playing Tony get into character.

Lead character Nicola Hall playing Maria and Lachlan Whan playing Tony get into character. Photo: Katherine Griffiths

Director Anne Somes said West Side Story "touches all the bases" with its dramatic story and "amazing" score and that it provided excellent opportunities for a talented young cast to shine.

Hall, 17, said West Side Story was her favourite musical.

"It's very powerful," she said, citing its serious themes - love, war, coming of age, racial prejudice. Although she's been in other shows including Les Miserables and The Wizard of Oz, she said, "This is most important to me."

She said the score, with soaring songs such as Tonight, was a big challenge for her vocally.

"I usually sing jazz, low dark tones - this puts me way up there."

Whan, 20, said what had initially attracted him to the show was the opportunities for dance and he was cast as one of the Jets. But when the actor originally cast as Tony dropped out, he auditioned again and landed the lead role which, he said, had "about 30 seconds of dancing", forcing him to concentrate on acting and singing.

"It's very challenging," he said.

West Side Story is on at the Queanbeyan Performing Arts Centre from February 8 to 24. Tickets $45/$39. For more information and bookings call 62856290 or visit theq.net.au

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