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West Side Story Guide and Commentary by Jack Gottlieb

Story Sources

It is widely well-known that West Side Story (WSS) is based directly on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet (R&J). Far much less well known is the fact that Shakespeare based his play (1594) on various other material, specifically a narrative poem by Arthur Brooke entitled The Tragispeak to Historye of Romeus and Juliet (1562). The theme of 2 lovers thwarted by scenarios past their control, yet, had long before been established in Western legend: Troilus and Cressida, Tristan and also Isolde, to name just two such pairs. In even more recent times, Amerihave the right to folklore had assimilated the myth into the feud between the Hatareas and McCoys. Brooke’s summary of R&J as an "vnfortunate coople" displays a puritanical streak:

" . . . louers, thrilling themselves to vnhocolony desire, neglecting the authoritie and also aduise of parental fees and frendes."

Shakespeare transcended the question of principles, though he obtained openly from the earlier poem, and also in reality, he replicated Brooke’s actual words in at least 3 instances. But Brooke pales by comparison. Shakespeare rapturously increased the soliloquies, and also fashioned new personeras endowing them through nobility.

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Although there are many kind of borrowings of plot and content from R&J to WSS, Arthur Laurental fees, writer of the book for the musical, did not verbally borrow from Shakespeare. But simply as Shakespeare transformed Brook’s "Drunken gossypes, superstitious friers, vnchastitie, the shame of stolne contractes hastyng to more vnhappye deathe," so Laurents reareas the second half of Shakespeare’s play, which he tells us, "rests on Juliet’s swpermitting a magic potion, a maker that would certainly not be swallowed in a contemporary play." He continues:

"In the book (why are the spoken words for a musical display referred to as this?) . . . the dialogue is my translation of adolescent street talk right into theater: it might sound actual, but it isn’t."

That he prospered, and did so brilliantly, is attested to by his companion-in-arms Alan Jay Lerner:

"Arthur Laurent’s book, with its moving re-informing of the Romeo and also Juliet tale. . . is a triumph of style and also version of its genre. As a fellow tradesguy, I was filled with the deepest admiration."

Jerome Robbins had actually at initially envisioned Juliet as a Jewish girl and Romeo as an Italian Catholic. The activity, set during the Easter-Passover seakid, was to have actually arisen on the Lower East Side of New York City. Hence the title might have been EAST Side Story. (Another working title was Gangway!) That was in 1949. Six years later, Laurental fees and Leonard Bernstein were functioning (independently) in Hollyhardwood, wright here they conferred on the aborted task. The newsfiles were filled via reports of street riots by Chicano Americans in Los Angeles.

Those headlines turned the trick, triggering the imagicountries of the collaborators. The locale promptly shifted to New York’s West Side, and in 1957 WSS exploded onto the Amerideserve to State. In the years that have passed, WSS has actually become a contemporary timeless.

The Operatic Trap

Soon after its premiere, Bernstein wrote about the lengthy geterminal between the show’s conception and also birth: "All the peering and also agony and also postponement and also re-re-recomposing rotate out to have been worth it." Part of that agony was the decision "not to cast ‘singers’: anypoint that sounded even more experienced would inevitably sound more competent, and also then the ‘kid’ quality would be gone."

Still, in 1949, Bernstein voiced apprehension of "making a musical that tells a tragic story in musical comedy terms . . . never falling into the ‘operatic’ trap" That trap need to be the vise (and also the vice) of vocal pyrotechnics for its very own sake, without moving the story forward.

Bernstein does avoid that trap in WSS. For example, among the most operatic moments is the duet in between Anita and Maria: A Boy Like That/I Have a Love. This denouement is, in the words of Stearns: "Anita’s fateful adjust of loyalties from which the remainder of the drama unfolds. " Bernstein evolves one song out of the other with a kind of musical legerdemain. Thus once Anita fulminates against the killings, we hear what will certainly turn right into Maria’s eloquence, utilizing precisely the same pitches and nearly the exact same rhythm. The seed has actually grown to tower over the ground in which it was planted.

While there is hope in WSS, tright here likewise is despair, and this also is reflected, in musical terms. Throughout the whole score the interval of the tritone is prominently displayed. (Theorists from the past have nicknamed the tritone Diabolus in musica (Devil in music"). It was considered the most "dangerous" interval. Its unsecure, rootless quality (C, for instance, to F# consists of 3 whole-measures, hence: tritone) was the perfect musical distillation of the unsteady connection between Tony and also Maria, and for the rootlessness, and also the resulting ruthlessness, of the Jet and Shark gangs.


Bernstein as soon as shelp the show might not "depfinish on stars, being around youngsters." Hundreds of young hopefuls auditioned for the original production. Of the forty ‘kids’ that landed the jobs - - for the majority of, their Broadmethod deyet - - many type of went on to a broad array of display business (or related) tasks. Perhaps not all their pathmethods were to greater glory, yet without WSS their careers would certainly most likely have actually taken significantly longer to blossom. In addition, some of them continued to maintain relationships through their WSS colleagues on an individual and/or professional basis.

The many astonishing career to be launched from the WSS pad was that of its lyricist, Stephen Sondheim, taken into consideration by many kind of to be the the majority of significant composer-lyricist of our time. If there is an aboriginal Amerihave the right to operatic style of today, Sondheim must be regarded as its standard-bearer. The operatic developments introduced by the WSS imaginative quartet: bigger song dimensions, simultaneities in complicated countersuggest, and so on became grist to the Sondheim mill.

Symphonic Dances Form West Side Story was premiered by the New York Philharmonic on February 13, 1961, yet the conductor was Lukas Foss. Bernstein was named Music Director of the Philharmonic one year after the opening of WSS, and also although he later on percreated and also videotaped the Dances with the orchestra, he never before, before the 1985 recording, carried out a performance of the show. (He remained in the pit to conduct the so-referred to as Overture - - a compilation of tunes not made by him - -for among the beforehand Broadway revivals). But why must someone whose career has actually been so diversified concentprice on one all-consuming job, a Broadway run? Bernstein never before conducted a live theater performance of his Candide, Wonderful Town, or MASS, either.

His recording of On The Tvery own, made long after its premiere through, among others, three of the original actors members, is the initially display album ever to be put onto disc by its composer. But one historical initially has actually yet to happen in the annals of videotaped Broadmeans musicals: a complete original cast album carried out by its composer.

The Film

The Academy Award for Best Picture of 1961 went to the movie variation of West Side Story, earning a full of ten Oscars.

Although Bernstein did not suffer the indignity of the mayhem perpetrated on his score in the movie of On The Town, the movie of West Side Story did make some minor alterations. "I Feel Pretty" was transferred to an earlier scene, the bridal shop. The area of "Gee, Officer Krupke" was interchanged with "Cool". Sondheim likewise wrote new lyrics for "America", performed by all the Sharks and also their girls (in the phase variation it is presented by 4 girls only).

These transforms were judged to be important to sustain an on-rushing feeling of doom. After all, the movie was not interrupted by an intermission in the time of which an audience could recuperate develop the devastation wrought by the danced Rumble. On stage, the bubbly "I Feel Pretty", at the start of Act II, was a type of extension of intermission babble.

The Dubbers

The singing voices of Richard Beymer (Tony, in the movie) was that of Jim Bryant, a Hollywood jazz and also commercial arranger and bass fiddler, preferred bereason his singing timbre matched Beymer’s spoken sound. Similarly, Betty Wand, a mezzo-soprano, was hired to carry out some, however not all, of Rita (Anita) Moreno’s singing. Wand later on sued to acquire a percentage of the movie-album sales, a conflict settled out-of-court. But the the majority of convoluted dubbing difficulties were those for the voice of Natalie Wood (Maria).

Marni Nixon was employed on a day-to-day basis (no contract was signed) to carry out just the high or continual notes that Wood’s much less disciplined voice might not control. And, indeed, the songs were taped in that manner, through Wood being continually told just how "wonderful" she was. While this was going on, Nixon was being told that she would certainly execute the full soundtrack, which was hard to think under the situations. But this vulnerable and deliberate game of musical pawns was played to ensure tright here would be not clash in between star and also studio until Wood’s visuals had been totally filmed. When she was finally "in the can," Wood was increated that Nixon had been chosen. Wood’s reactivity was understandable anger, and also later on when she filmed her function in Gypsy, no substitutions were produced her singing voice.

Nixon’s task then became a lot even more facility than her dubbing of Deborah Kerr in the filming of The King and also I. Tright here, everything had been very closely worked out in rehearsal, through Nixon physically alongside Kerr at all music rehearsals. But since Wood had currently been filled via musical inaccuracies, Nixon had to compensate for them. On long shots tright here was no problem, but on close-ups she had to hedge it one way or another. In truth, Nixon even referred to as Wood’s speaking voice at the extremely end: "Don’t you touch him!" Te adoro, Anton."

Due to the internet of deception, Nixon felt she deserved a reduced of the movie-album royalties. Neither the movie or the record producers would bow to her requirements. Bernstein broke the stalemate by volunteering a portion of his income, a gesture of loyalty-royalty because Nixon had been a performer-colleague of his at New York Philharmonic concerts.

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Throughout the Leonard Bernstein Centennial, West Side Story continued its longtime success and also popularity, via both theatre and opera carriers worldwide giving over 1300 performances in 24 nations and 25 US States. The Centennial’s performances consisted of amazing new productions from Opera Australia"s Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour; Takarazuka Revue"s all-female production in Japan; the Fugard Theater"s in South Africa, the Guthrie Theatre"s production in Minneapolis, the Komische Opera in Berlin and also SOM Productions in Spain, to name just a couple of. In addition, the GRAMMY Awards paid homage to the composer at the 60th Annual GRAMMY Awards Ceremony through a performance of “Somewhere” from West Side Story by TONY and GRAMMY award-winning artist Ben Platt. The Centennial additionally brought through it the rare chance to present Leonard Bernstein to a new generation of young audiences and also performers. The El Sistema-motivated music programs approximately the country mutual in a one-of-a-kind setup of the song “Somewhere” from West Side Story. Google phelp tribute on the birthday with a delightful Doodle featuring an animated cartoon of LB collection to the Prologue from West Side Story.

Related WorksWest Side Story, Film via Live OrchestraSymphonic Dances from West Side Story