A good teacher will always challenge pupils so when staff at the Hammond set Leonard Bernstein's West Side Story as the musical this year, they must have known the bar had been set high.

These professional musical theatre and drama students are used to taking on West End big hitters, including Les Misérables and Phantom of the Opera , to critical acclaim, but with Bernstein's score, Shakespeare's plot and Jerome Robbins' choreography to live up to, it must make even the real professionals quake.

The first challenge is to open with the energetic Jets song and the boys, led by Matthew Neuenhaus as Riff, did a good enough job but by the time they had danced at the gym and challenged a few Puerto Ricans, they were really 'Cool' just when they needed to be.

 

Dance is the Hammond School's speciality and they didn't let us down.  The Dance at the Gym with the Mambo and the Cha-Cha had all the sexual energy that you would expect from a group of young teenagers and I wonder if the same was evident at all the Year 11 proms that have been taking place this week in Chester.

Star-crossed lovers Alex Hunt and Megan Hollie-Robertson as Tony and Maria sang beautifully, especially together, and their balcony scene in the tenements of New York took me right back to fair Verona. 

Nicole Finneran had a maturity beyond her years in the role of Anita and I could have watched her America duet with Kirsty Warren as Rosalia again and again.  With immigration topping the political news feeds these days, this song sums up just why people migrate to other countiries.  For a better life, even if the dream never comes true.

The sharks are always my favourite and Jordan Li-Smith, although diminutive in stature, commanded the respect of his gang before being 'taken out' by Tony in a revenge attack for the death of his best friend Riff.

This West Side Story is not an easy tale to tell - with its street gangs, violence, rape and racism - and the students made it as thought-provoking as it was when it first opened.

There are a few light moments however and Matthew Johnson was an hilarious Glad Hand, trying to control the tension at the dance.  Jack Hales was a delightful Baby John and Jessica Byrd, a lovely Anybody's.

West Side Story is on today (Saturday, June 28) at 1.30pm and 7pm. Tickets are £17 (£12 concessions) from www.thehammondschool.co.uk or on 01244 305362.