REVIEW: West Side Story, Mayflower Theatre, Southampton, until Saturday, May 3.

It was the night of the understudy as Charlotte Baptie and Sinead Kenny stepped up to take on the roles of Maria and Anita respectively – and triumphantly.

Both seized their chance with huge style and skill. You’d never for a moment have suspected they weren’t doing it each and every night.

Baptie in particular was superlative, capturing all the fun and hope of young love – a young love doomed from the start by the most impossible of circumstances. Tragedy was always the only possible outcome, and Baptie – alongside Louis Maskell as Tony, her star-crossed lover – brought out all its agony in a beautiful staging of Bernstein and Sondheim’s reworking of Romeo & Juliet.

Maskell brilliantly captured a sense of hope with Something’s Coming and then conveyed all the excitement when that something came in the shape of Maria. Song after song, each carrying a huge weight of audience expectation, was delivered with striking freshness.

But as gang rivalry spills over into violence and murder, Tony and Maria are left with nowhere to go as we head towards the bleakest and most crushing of finales.

Staged and paced to perfection, this is a production which does full justice to a modern classic.

Phil Hewitt