IT may be more than half a century old, but West Side Story’s timeless themes of forbidden love continue to resonate with young people.

More than 40 county youngsters this week put on a production of the classic musical, which had its Broadway premiere in 1957.

Young people aged 16 to 20 spent three weeks rehearsing to nail the show’s complex song and dance numbers.

It has

wowed sold-out audiences at East Oxford’s Pegasus Theatre this week, beginning on Wednesday and finishing tonight.

It is the first Oxford production by London-based youth theatre charity RicNic and has been free of charge for those taking part.

The show – made into a 1961 film – takes it cue from Romeo and Juliet, but is set in the tough streets of New York.

It tells the story of gang member Tony who falls in love with Maria, the sister of a rival gang leader. Summertown resident Will Abell said the role of Tony has helped him in his bid to become an actor.

The 18-year-old former Abingdon School pupil will this month set off to Leeds University to study theatre and performance.

He said: “It has been very long days, for the last three weeks it has been seven hours of rehearsals.

It’s been stressful, but so so worth it. “I think it has shown me that if this is the thing I want to go into, then this is what I have to put up with. I enjoy the intensity really.”

Fringford’s Hannah Cross, 16, who plays Maria, said: “It is amazing. We are all so young but it is such a professional production.”

The Oxford High School pupil said: “It is one of the main musicals everybody knows.

“On the first night a few things went wrong, but otherwise it went really well.

Everyone had that first-night buzz.” Today’s matinee and evening performance is sold out. Gill Jaggers, spokesman for the Magdalen Road theatre, said: “They have done really well – they have all enjoyed it.”

And director Alex Millen added: “They are loving it and I am really enjoying it. “As far as opening nights go, it went really well.”