rurunr WEST SIDE sroRy

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I The origins of West Side Story go back to 1948 when Jerome Robbins had been given a copy of Romeo andJuliet by his friend Montgomery Clift. who was debating whether or not to play in it.

IThe original theme for the musical was a Jewish boy‘s star-crossed romance with an Italian Catholic girl set against the clashing street gangs on New York‘s lower East Side.

I Atllrst. Bernstein was going to do the lyrics himself. then there were thoughts of Comden and Green before Sondheim was brought in. The young lyricist thought ofcvery conceivable excuse not to do the job. and told his agent. Flora Roberts ‘1 can‘tdothis show . . .l‘ve never been that poor and I've never even known a Puerto Rican!‘

I the project went through three title changes from EastSide Story to Gang Way to West Side Story.

I Following try-outs in Washington and Philadelphia. the original production opened at the Winter Garden Theatre. New York City on September 26 1957. The following morning. Walter Kerr in the Herald Tribune wrote. "The radioactive fallout from WestSide Story must still be descending on Broadway this morning.‘

I Hailed as one of the ‘crowning masterworks‘ of American musical theatre. early plans for it to be staged at the World‘s Fair in Brussels. and inthe Soviet Union were abandoned when the American government


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decided it represented an ‘unsuitable' picture of modern New York life.

I 0f the first London production in 1958. Kenneth Tynan wrote. ‘The score is as smooth and savage as a cobra, it sounds as if Puccini and Stravinsky had gone on a roller-coaster ride into the precincts of modern jazz. Jerome Robbins projects the show as a rampaging ballet. with bodies flying through the air as ifshot from guns. . .‘

I In 1962. Mirisch Pictures Inc released the film version with Natalie Wood as Maria (although her voice was dubbed by Marnie Nixon). Richard Beymer as Tony and Russ Tamblyn as Riff. The film won an unprecendcntcd ten Oscars. including Best Film.

I thirty years later. Richard Beymer and Russ Tamblyn appeared together again as. respectively. Ben Horne and Dr Jacoby in David Lynch‘s Twin Peaks.

I There have been three major revivals of West Side Story on Broadway. The last ofthese. in 1980. featured Debbie Allen as Anita. Ms Allen then went on to film and television stardom in Fame.

I West Side Story became a world-wide attraction soon after its Broadway opening with no fewer than seventeen English language productions playing throughout Europe. Africa. the Middle East and Australia. Foreign language versions quickly followed. Ofthe three different Japanese productions. the most successful was by the Takarazuka Revue Company an all-girl theatre school.

ns‘ original choreograth

drew on streetwise cool and Puerto Ricanpizzazz

L___ _

16 The List 12 25 July 1991

and the people on stage don‘t quite understand what‘s going on. We were doing a matinee and there was all this activity in the audience and when we got off-stage the wall had gone up.‘

Last year Johnson took this latest company to East Berlin where they opened on the first anniversary ofthe Berlin Wall's demise. ‘lt was extraordinary seeing it come full circle. At one point we were rehearsing the ballet and Tony says “we‘re buying someplace where nothing can get us and we can be free". and they all push through this fence. Everyone in the cast immediately realised it was very relevant and sort of poignant.‘

Back at the Amsterdam show. the American ambassador has gone and the cast is relaxing into Dutch hospitality. Apart from Doc. who is like a father both on and off-stage (he is a theatre coach as well as an actor of many years standing). they are young. the way Bernstein wanted it.

Scott (‘arollo. the voice of Tony and described by Alan Johnson as ‘a real find‘. swings in in his jeans. comfortable in his position as star of the show. Sarah McGraw. Juliet to his Romeo. and herself possessed of a fine voice. says he‘s the best she‘s worked with. ‘Every night he gives me something different that I can use.‘ She calls over and asks him if he has a vaporiser in his hotel room. His voice was hoarse tonight for the first time on tour. ‘No. but I‘ll try the shower.‘

Hovering in the background the company manager. an Australian who gave up nursing a year ago to go into her sister‘s theatrical management business. listens with concern. Living under a mountain of luggage. hotel bookings and practical responsibilities she admits that trying to look after a group ofplayers is more difficult than patients. who are at least tied to bed.

As she moves on to another surgery. Gary Chryst. a sleek Bernardo. leader ofthe Puerto Rican 'Sharks‘. moves in. ()ne ofthe most experienced dancers of the troupe. he was with the Joffrey Ballet for eleven years and has taken leads all over the world. A fast talker off-stage and a fast dancer on. he

justifiably name-drops his way through his career Twyla Tharp. Jose Limon. Bob Fosse. Natalia Markova and Lyn Seymour

Leonard Bernstein drills the castwhile Stephen Sondheim plays piano in rehearsal lorthe originalproduction

are some which stand out in the stream.

Just behind us. Jackie Lowe. a dancer with dizzy energy and charisma is talking about her ancestry. It doesn‘t go very far back. ‘but the good part about that is I can make up anything.‘ That freedom from ties describes her dance. Training fairly late in her mid-twenties. she has a head snap which defies whiplash and a sense of timing which can anticipate music without losing the rhythm. ‘l dance on the edge and look like I‘m going to fall off.‘ American-style she adds. 'Child. it is a gift from (iod.'

Lowe's stage presence in combination with that of Sarah McGraw makes the performance. bringing together the women as a united force and heroes of the piece. Such is the character of West Side Story that it allows itselfto shift with changing casts and times and has let modern women replace their counterparts of the 50s.

But what of Broadway itself? l las the musical lost its currency in the art world? Has the genre become simply a tourist attraction? AlanJohnson remembers healthier days. ‘There‘s less of Broadway I‘m afraid. When I first went to New York. there were a great number ofshows. You could be in one show and leave to go to a neweronc. Nobody leaves shows now. The financial climate of Broadway is so : foreboding. I mean. you can‘t get a musical on for less that Sbm.‘ .

But he. like other members ofthe cast. is i optimistic. ‘You know there‘s an exciting thing happening right now. Broadway Theatre Alliance get productions on and everybody involved works for halfsalary. 1 Maybe that‘s the way things will go.‘ 1

Whatever the challenge. these people have ‘gotta sing. gotta dance‘. and it seems i unlikelythey willshift underthe pressure of j hard times. With the fatherly concern he 3 brings to his portrayal of Doc. Edwin Bordo

describes their art as ‘always difficult. But

it‘s like a worm gnawing. You must do this thing. We have to bring the results ofthis gnawing to an audience.‘ l

l'l’estSitleStory. SIX '('. Glasgow, Tue [7— 'l‘ltttrs 25 Jul.