MARCH 7th: WEST SIDE STORY – Annual Friends and Family Outing!

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This post is about the MWC’s Annual Friends and Family Theater Outing to WEST SIDE STORY, on Saturday, March 7th at 2pm.  This is the new stage adaptation directed by Ivo van Hove and showcasing new choreography (NOT Jerome Robbins’). Tickets are $185. each for front mezzanine seats.  MWC’ers are invited to include friends and family (especially kids!) to join us in experiencing this ground-breaking theatrical experience!  There will be a get-together afterwards.  MWC’ers go to SIGN UP! and get your tickets!

It’s highly unlikely that when the four wunderkind of post-war musical theater – Jerome Robbins (director and choreographer), Leonard Bernstein (composer and orchestrator), Stephen Sondheim (lyricist) and Arthur Laurents (author) – set out more than sixty years ago to create a gritty, in-your-face, contemporary musical version of Romeo and Juliet they ever thought their work would bear the dusty mantle of a classic.  But that IS what happened – because what they created was so extraordinary for its time (WEST SIDE STORY opened in 1957) and so perfectly executed that it ushered in a new era of American musical theater.  And who wants to mess with a classic?

Yet, painful as it may be, I can’t help but remember seeing the movie version of WEST SIDE STORY with my children when they were eight and 11 years old and during a poignant moment between Tony and Maria they … LAUGHED.  What was cutting-edge contemporary to a 1957 audience had become anachronistic in 2000.  The idea of warring gangs on Manhattan’s Upper West Side (in Lincoln Center, no less) – between Polish-Americans and Puerto Ricans – no longer had the punch, the brutal violence and fear, and the pathos which was originally intended.  So, in what must be one of the highest risk theatrical endeavors of our time, new creative and production teams are taking a look at WEST SIDE STORY and figuring out how to interpret it for 2020 and to re-infuse it with up-to-the-minute intensity

Yikes.  Avant-garde Belgian director Ivo van Hove (Tony Award Winner for THE CRUCIBLE, Tony nominee for NETWORK) is taking this on with the support of a recently formed production partnership between Scott Rudin, Barry Diller and David Geffen.  And in one of this production’s biggest creative leaps (ah, a dance joke!) this will be the first WEST SIDE STORY revival on Broadway to use new choreography from Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker.  There have been rumors of some strategic cuts (“I Feel Pretty” – with Sondheim’s permission! – and the “Somewhere” ballet danced by Tony and Maria) along with cancelling the intermission.  But Bernstein’s truly rhapsodic, Latin-jazz, symphonic score and orchestrations will remain intact.  Hope so, as WEST SIDE STORY is very widely – deservedly –  considered to be the best work of the maestro’s illustrious career.

Van Hove says getting rid of the intermission is intended to make the audience feel the propulsive time limitations (all of the action takes place within 48 hours) faced by the youthful characters with their characteristic impatience.  “I want to make a juggernaut,” van Hove said (in a recent interview in Vogue) regarding streamlining the show into one act. “You feel that these people are running toward their deaths and there’s no escape from it.” Well-known for his use of real time video (as seen in NETWORK), early word suggests that will be incorporated as well.

This production of WEST SIDE STORY is both a very exciting prospect and, for those of us who LOVE and revere this work, white knuckle time as well.  No matter the time period, WEST SIDE STORY is about racial tolerance and any effort to bring that message, perhaps most especially in the guise of a landmark theatrical piece, is welcome.  Scared to death to see this – but I wouldn’t miss it for the world.

FUN FACTS ABOUT WEST SIDE STORY:

  • Stephen Sondheim was only 27 when WEST SIDE STORY opened; it was his first show on Broadway.
  • The “West Side” which WEST SIDE STORY refers to is where Lincoln Center is now, and the neighborhood which was cleared to create it. (Uh, thank you Robert Moses?)
  • The long opening note(s) of the musical are reputedly based on the sound of a shofar – a traditional horn used in Jewish religious ceremonies.
  • The opening fives notes of the piece “Somewhere” (lyrics are, “There’s a place for us…”) are the same five notes you hear when NYC’s R142 subway cars pull out of a station. Those are the cars used on the 1-2-3-4-5 and 6 IRT subway lines. However, those cars were put into operation AFTER the score was already written.
  • WEST SIDE STORY opened on Broadway in 1957 to mixed reviews.
  • It lost the 1958 Tony for Best Musical to THE MUSIC MAN (also being revived this year).
  • The 1961 movie version won 10 Academy Awards, including Best Picture.
  • The opening sequence of the movie of WEST SIDE STORY was filmed on the actual construction site of Lincoln Center.
  • Robert Wise, co-director of the movie version, wanted Elvis Presley to play Tony. Audrey Hepburn was offered the role of Maria (ultimately played by Natalie Wood).
  • WEST SIDE STORY was originally going to be EAST SIDE STORY and about a Catholic boy and a Jewish Girl.
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