I saw West Side Story, the original movie, with my father when I was under ten. It’s the first movie I remember seeing. So, it made sense that I would take my daughter, now 22, to the revival of the play when it opened a month or so ago.
I have been singing the songs ever since. Maria, Tonight. God, it doesn’t get any better. They could never lift the curtain, play the songs and everyone could close their eyes and see this play. No one writes music like that anymore.
That said, we have to question some of the casting decisions this time around.
For example, Maria. This new Maria is not Latino at all. With the Latino population growing to new heights (isn’t it 20 percent or something?), are you telling me they couldn’t find a true Latino Maria? I understood Natalie Wood those oh so many years ago, but I thought we’d made more progress than this. Besides, this Maria would never have the guts to run off with anyone. Trust me.
I’m not sure how to discuss Tony and be politically correct at the same time. Tony was not strong enough. Tony was the techie guy behind a computer screen, not the Tony who could fly up a flight of fire stairs on the outside of a brick apartment building above 124th street like Spiderman. My wrists are twice the size of his. There is no room for a Metro Tony in West Side Story.
Anita steals the show. She is amazing. She dances with a fever of passion that takes all the anger that must well up inside someone who has no options but a strong sense of self and has to dance before she explodes. She sings well, and she cares about the part. You don’t realize it until afterward, but there are those that love to do stage acting and those that do stage acting but don’t love it, and she is the former.
They did some of the scenes in Spanish. Even I Feel Pretty was in Spanish. I get it, and I promise I believe that ‘Give me your tired, your poor’ should include everyone, but it reminded me in the middle of I Feel Pretty that I’m not one of those Americans who feels that language in America should be anything other than English. Shoot me. And, I didn’t want my brain to go to political issues in the middle of West Side Story when the play is already fraught with the social injustice called our history which brings on guilt for me anyway. Moving right along.
The sets, the sets. The set for the fight taking place on the pavement under the underpass is phenomenal. How does one figure that out? Whoever designed it really brought the place – the walls, the darkness, the hopelessness – to us in the theatre. I thank you. It made all the difference.
Going to a play in today’s world calls for more than a few hours of entertainment. There are chores after the play ends.
I thought a bit about Sondheim and Bernstein during the play. I wonder at Leonard Bernstein and West Side Story. His finest hour? I read somewhere before I went that Berstein had been surprised at West Side Story’s success. “Who would want to see a show in which the first act curtain comes down on two dead bodies lying on the stage?” Isn’t that amazing? My how times have changed. I then found out that there is a book with lectures he gave at Harvard where he discusses the play. (How did I live without the Internet? I don’t remember going to the library.) The Unanswered Question: Six Talks at Harvard (The Charles Eliot Norton Lectures) (Paperback). I downloaded it to my Kindle. (LOVE my Kindle)
Then I went to ITunes and downloaded a bunch of the songs from the movie which I will surely make into a CD for Sarah at my earliest convenience (Translation: It will never happen).
Then I went back to the Internet and found some articles about the original play, cast etc.
I think I do these additional things after a play – at least one that I liked – (I did nothing after Wicked other than be grateful I never dressed as Glenda for Halloween and preferred to be grapes instead) to extend the high and possibly to amortize the cost of the play which was absolutely absurd.
Also, I can’t say it was an indicator of the financial crisis receding or not, but it was packed. Standing room only.
Go and see it. Do.