Monday, January 21, 2008

50 Years of West Side Story

I never wanted to be a performer, as much as I live for the arts. There is one exception to that statement. To me the ultimate cool thing, is to dance in West Side Story, It doesn't matter if I'm a Shark or Jet.

National Public Radio presented a special about the making of West Side Story, and it being the 50 year anniversary of its Broadway Opening. That radio show had me mesmorized, This Youtube video shows a cast reunion of the 1957 Broadway show.

Start with book by Arthur Laurents, music by Leonard Bernstein, lyrics by Stephen Soundheim, directed and choreographed by Jerome Robbins and produced by Harold Prince. That is an artistic dream team. Add a story based on Romeo and Juliet.

The cast had to all dance, act and sing on a high level. Carol Lawrence was an unknown actress. She was auditioned 13 times for the Maria part. Due to that the unions created the "Carol Lawrence Law". It is against the law to have more than three auditions on Broadway for free. Chita Rivera who went on to become Broadway's greatest dancer, was an 11 year on stage overnight sensation, She married one of the lead male dancers. Tony was played by Larry Kert who died of AIDS in 1991.

The cast was divided by gang. No socialization between gangs was allowed. The different groups had different audition times. Their rest places were covered with articles about gand warfare. During the Jets and Sharks dance, they were never on stage together, until actual performance. The Jets authentically were startled by their entrance.

What is little known, is Arthur Laurents was planning this since 1949 with Jerome Robbins. The original idea was for it to be "East Side Story," centered around a Jew and Catholic. With Puerto Ricans arriving to New York in a wave of immigrations, the changes were made; it moved to the West side, and became about Italians and Puerto Ricans.

What is important about West Side Story, is that the project was about artistic integrity; not about celebrity or profit. It didn't even make money until the movie came out.


K. said...

Wonderful stuff! The woman in the pink top at the end of the video feels like she's 20 years old again! WSS was the first musical we took our kids to. They walked around snapping their fingers for a week.

beatroot said...

More and more I like your artistic choices, Ren. West Side Story is the best musical ever (Cabaret is second). It was a revolutionary piece of work when it was produced. It was not boy meets girl, happy ending. It was boy meets girl, which causes a race riot.

And the music and dancing are yet to be bettered in a musical – both on stage and film.

Una said...

It is interesting history. Did you do some of what is happening in Palestine? My concern is these people

Frank Partisan said...

Beatroot: I don't mind sappy musicals. WSS is Romeo and Juliet Take New York.

K: Thank you for visiting.

Camino: See this.

Graeme said...

I remember having to watch the West Side story in High school and being completely blown away by how damn cool it was.

Tina said...

When I saw West Side Story on stage in Cleveland as a high school junior, I was well familiar with the tale because it was one of my mom's fav musicals.
As a kid, I always felt that the fiery and beautiful (and an actual Puerto Rican) Rita Moreno should have played the part of Maria instead of Natalie Wood in the film... until I saw it performed live on stage. Once I saw it live, I came to see how Moreno was indeed a much better choice for Anita rather than the part of Maria.
And for those who are a fan of the film, the West Side Story: Special Edition DVD is fabulous.

MoxyIdeas said...

Wonderful post! Thanks for letting me know about the NPR story, now I can go and listen to it. I got to see Chita Rivera last year, doing a biographical show. She spoke, sang and danced through her memories of childhood, Broadway, etc. Her legs are still amazing.


beatroot said...

Beatroot: I don't mind sappy musicals. WSS is Romeo and Juliet Take New York.

WSS is NOT a sappy musical. If you look at the intentions of the authors this is a social and political musical. Artistically it was a huge leap forward for the musical form. The music, the book, everything.

It ain't no sappy musical. It was not Mary Poppins.

ZC said...

RE, thanks for this informative post. I wasn't aware of the degree to which the original production team was striving to impart a view of social reality ...

I'm actually not a huge fan of the WSS film, but people in the know tell me that, regardless, the play is major accomplishment. I'm willing to take them at their word until I can see a good production for myself. Cheers!

azgoddess said...

nice video - thanks for!!

steven rix said...

I've seen the movie when I was growing up and I loved it. Until this day I still listen from time to time to the orginal soundtrack from Leonard Bernstein.

BTW Happy new year!

Nadia A. said...

I think that "High School Musical" craze that has been hitting the schools has a big debt to West Side Story.

Frank Partisan said...

Supermom: Welcome.

Beatroot: I meant that I like musical theater, Most doesn't match WSS.

Zach: Thank you for the comment.

Tina: Rita Moreno was good, but Chita Rivera is better.

Carol Lawrence should have been Maria. It was Hollywood politics, that kept her from the role.

Nadia: Atleast HSM is keeping musical theater alive for young people.

AZGoddess: There is good WSS video on Youtube.

Graeme: I agree.

Fatal Paradox said...

Great to see another socialist who has a soft spot for WSS!

american left history said...

REn thanks for technical advise but how do I put your site on as a link I tried the advant. blogspot and renegade but it just gave me the general blogspot site Help Markin. By the way intersting West Side Story article. Remember when you are a jet you are a jet all the way.

jams o donnell said...

I've never been much of a fan of musicals but West Side Story is one I do enjoy.

Benny Watch said...


Thanks for visiting my site. I'll now be a regular visitor to Renegade Eye.

And just so you know, I once auditioned for West Side Story...sadly I couldn't click.



american left history said...

Ren thanks for info I think I have this down now on links. It is funny that you mentioned trouble with the black blog background I was thinking that myself. Are we getting old or is there conspiracy going on? By the way if you get a chance sent me a list of sites you think I should link up with. Thanks again Markin

Incognito said...

Was never that interested in musicals, in spite of being an actress, but WSS is one I do enjoy. Maybe because I played a Shark in a scene from WSS in college..

Isn't art wonderful!! It can bring people together.

blackstone said...

is it hard to believe ive never seen this play? Ever?

Bill Harrison said...

Of course WSS was a milestone in so many ways not least of which was the jazz oriented score and the fact that it was a successful musical tragedy. I've played the show several times; it is still tricky to execute and rhythmically devilish. Thanks for the great post - it was wonderful to see the joy on the actors' faces as they re-lived the experience from fifty years ago.

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