To get a feel of the high drama surrounding gang rivalries of 1950s New York, one must catch up with the Broadway West Side Story version. ‘West Side Story’ received great acclaim as a landmark theatrical Broadway production.
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The musical drew its inspiration from Shakespeare’s ‘Romeo and Juliet.’
Origin Of the Play
American stage director and playwright, Arthur Laurents made this musical a reality. Also, he and director, Jerome Robbins wanted the backdrop to have a contemporary feel with reflections upon the socio-cultural conflicts within the society that Broadway West Side Story portrays.
Therefore, even though the play was inspired by ‘Romeo and Juliet,’ the plot and backdrop mirrored the conflict between two separate ethnic groups.
Jerome Robbins directed and choreographed this Broadway’s ‘West Side Story’ was premiered in 1957.
In the year 1949, Robbins met Laurents and music composer, Leonard Bernstein. Robbins proposed to make a musical concentrating on a clash between two families – one Jewish and the other an Italian-Roman family.
Laurents, who was equally enthusiastic, wrote an initial draft and named it East Side Story. However, the three had some disagreements on their views about the drama form.
Due to this, the project was shelved for five years. However, after this gap, Laurents contacted Bernstein again. This time they decided to incorporate the juvenile criminal gangs’ theme as a major angle in the plot.
The play was renamed ‘West Side Story.’ The two called upon Robbins and the three were together again to make Broadway West Side Story a reality. Bernstein decided to take charge of composing the musical score for the play. And lyricist Stephen Sondheim took over the lyrics department.
Casting And Music
The play contained more music and dance numbers than any other stage presentation during those years.
Actor, James Dean was thought of earlier for playing the role of Tony, a chief character in the play. However, Dean passed away before even listening to the characterization.
However, later Larry Kert and Chita Rivera were rolled in to play the lead roles of Tony and Anita.
The other important roles were performed by actors- Carol Lawrence, Mickey Calin, Art Smith, David Winter, and Ken LeRoy.
As stated by Laurents, this musical was impossible to stage due to its extravagant musical pieces. In some of the sequences, the actors were required to dance, sing, and act simultaneously. This made it one of the most challenging plays of the time.
Laurents felt that certain song lyrics like those of ‘America’ and ‘I feel Pretty’ were not fitting the play’s mood. However, these turned out to be a few of the most famous pieces of the time.
The other musical masterpieces of the presentation were ‘One hand, One heart’ and ‘Tonight.’
This production crossed many hurdles in its making. At a certain point, the presentation appeared unfeasible. Laurents himself claimed that the musical was written off by many as “an impossible project.”
Laurents also mentioned that some people felt that “the score was too rangy for pop music.”
Selecting the apt cast was yet another difficulty. Laurents pointed that out when he said – “We had the really tough problem of casting…the characters had to be able not only to sing but dance and act and be taken for teenagers.”
The cast members were not allowed to mingle before the staging. Robbins planned this in order to highlight the antagonism between the two gangs in the play – Jets, and Sharks.
Adaptation Of Romeo and Juliet
West Side Story is an adaptation of Shakespeare’s, Romeo, and Juliet. The idea for the West Side Story revival first came to Jerome Robbins, Leonard Bernstein, and Arthur Laurents. They wanted to make a musical version of Romeo and Juliet. They wanted it to be a love story of a Jewish boy and an Italian Catholic girl. They called it the East Side Story.
However, the project was shelved for six years. And when they came back to the project the idea of a romance between a Jewish boy and an Italian Catholic girl no longer seemed socially relevant. Instead, they came up with the idea of a star-crossed romance, between a native-born Polish boy and a newly arrived Puerto Rican girl. The book was written by Arthur Laurents.
Its music is another positive point. Leonard Bernstein’s score has enchanted audiences for decades. “Maria,” “Tonight,” “I Feel Pretty,” “One Hand, One Heart,” “America,” “Somewhere,” and “Jet Song” are some of the most popular scores of West Side Story.
The scores effectively catch the grim reality of New York’s slum life. However, at the same time, they have so much poetry and beauty that they touch our souls.
Best Seats to West Side Story
If you are heading out to see West Side Story be sure to try your hardest to get the best seats. While keeping your budget intact try to find seats center stage. Prices will drop as you move further back. As long as you stay center stage the views and sound will definitely be spot on. Don’t forget about the upper balcony options if you have this as a choice. Prices will drop while still giving you a nice look at the stage. Don’t settle, get the best seats for West Side Story.