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WEST IS BEST!

 
 

A Love Story as Old as the Hills!

   

 

  

 

All links in a chain that lead back then to some original story of love.  Neither a borrower nor a lender be…said Shakespeare, but he did, borrow that is, and heavily!  And transformed what he borrowed so well!  Shakespeare used Arthur Brooke's 1562 poem The Tragical History of Romeus and Juliet as well as William Painter's Palace of Pleasure as sources for his Romeo and Juliet.  And before Brooke, the story of Romeo and Juliet was already popular in Renaissance times, and features in a novello by Matteo Brandello as well as other Italian sources.  All stories, especially love stories, are as old as the hills…but when they are told in new ways or the voice is particularly divine…then we have magic

West Side Story, in 1957, was Broadway magic.  This retelling of Romeo and Juliet, based on a 'conception' of Jerome Robbins, dazzled audiences with its smart, modern rendering of the original story with glorious musical numbers and brilliant choreography.  West Side Story had impeccable genes - a book by Arthur Laurents, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, music by Leonard Bernstein and choreography by Jerome Robbins -- arguably the most luminous creative team ever assembled on Broadway.  An old story of love, transposed to 1950's Hell's Kitchen and turned it into a musical!

Laurents and Co.'s talent lay not just in retelling a familiar story, but in reframing it in an entirely new light: the American immigrant dream as it was experienced by hundreds of thousands of Puerto Rican immigrants in the 1950's.  The battle between Sharks and Jets mirrored the many turf wars of the time between Caucasian and Latino gangs in Hell's Kitchen -- the marvelously-named swath of land that stretches roughly from 42nd to 57th street on Manhattan's far West Side and home to generations of poor Irish dockworkers and Sicilian immigrants who did not at first take kindly to their new neighbors from the Caribbean.  Love is an old story.  So is clannishness.  And human history is a story, generally, about the triumph of the former over the latter.  West Side Story also worked its magic in the 1961 film directed by Robbins and Robert Wise, starring Nathalie Wood and Rita Moreno.

More than half a century after the musical's glorious premiere, Bernardo, Tony, Maria, and Anita are back on Broadway at the Palace Theatre.  Much has changed since 1957 in Hell's Kitchen and in America, and these changes (yes, Barack Obama is President!) have been astutely and ingeniously incorporated into this new production by Laurents -- still going strong and in his early 90s now!  The Puerto Ricans now speak in Spanish instead of English and the Latino Sharks are no longer the bad guys -- both gangs can now claim equal credit as street hoodlums.  In this newest adaptation of this oldest of stories, Maria in love now croons to her friends Siento Hermosa, instead of I Feel Pretty.  But the song remains the same -- love springs eternal in a land of hope and opportunity.  

         

 

See: West Side Story 

 

Tags:  theatre  broadway

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