West Side Story

Leonard Bernstein: West Side Story

Music: Leonard Bernstein
Book: Arthur Laurents
Lyrics: Stephen Sondheim
Choreography: Jerome Robbins
Original Cast (1957)
Maria: Carol Lawrence
Tony: Larry Kert
Anita: Chita Rivera
Bernardo: Ken LeRoy
Riff: Mickey Calin
Film Cast (United Artists, 1961)
Maria: Natalie Wood (songs dubbed by Marni Nixon
Richard Beymer (songs dubbed by Jim Bryant)
Anita: Rita Moreno (some songs dubbed by Betty Wand & Marni Nixon)
Bernardo: George Chakiris
Riff: Russ Tamblyn
Tony Mardente, who played A - rab on the stage, was Action in the film.
Of all the contributions of American culture to the arts, the Broadway musical is one of the most significant. Its predecessor, the European operetta (a play with spoken dialogue but abundant singing in operatic style), typically featured exotic settings, aristocratic characters, and wildly improbable plots. Although the musical's roots were in England, it quickly evolved in the hands of such geniuses as Irving Berlin, Jerome Kern, Richard Rogers and Lorenz Hart and the incomparable George and Ira Gershwin into a distinctively American form featuring popular songs, many of which were to become "standards," still widely performed and loved today.
Leonard Bernstein took the musical to new heights of seriousness in his 1957 production, West Side Story, based loosely on Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. Its true subject was the growing menace of gang warfare (or "juvenile delinquency" as it was known then) in the context of racial tensions created by clashes between whites and Puerto Rican immigrants. Consciousness of racism was very much on the rise in the U.S. of the late fifties; and Bernstein, a life - long liberal, wanted to portray the issue in an uncompromising fashion.
The subject is treated in a fairly complex fashion. Note especially "I Want to Live in America," which expresses the ambiguous feelings of the immigrants about their homeland while forthrightly condemning American white racism. Originally the script was to have dealt with a Catholic/Protestant romance, but Bernstein decided to choose a more immediately relevant theme. Ironically, neither Broadway nor Hollywood was able to rise above its own institutionalized racism to cast a Latina actress as Maria.
The gangs of that time were much less well armed than today's, and the exigencies of stage and film production in the fifties forced the libretto to use somewhat censored language (somewhat dated now, but fairly hip then), so that the modern viewer may be tempted to look at this story of gang warfare as somewhat innocent and naive. But at a deeper level, the hatreds and frustrations articulated here are authentic reflections of an ongoing American tragedy.
West Side Story features classic dances by Jerome Robbins, especially in the hyper - athletic masculine style pioneered by choreographer Agnes de Mille in Rodeo and Oklahoma, and several extraordinarily beautiful songs, many of which have become classics. Bernstein, at this time the most famous conductor in the world, leading the New York Philharmonic, and exponent of a wide range of classical and popular music, had the skills to write music considerably more complex that contained in most musicals.
If a musical is not an opera, neither is it a play. It is necessary to accept the fact that characters are constantly bursting into either song or dance. It is in these songs and dances that the very essence of the musical exists.
Please note that this production, though it is being shown to you from a videotape cassette copy, is not a "video." Refer to it as a "film" or "movie."
Lots more information at the West Side Story Web Site.

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