West Side Story: The Very Model of a Major Musical
West Side Story, a collaboration of four extraordinary individuals Jerome Robbins (choreographer and director), Arthur Laurents (librettist), Leonard Bernstein (composer), and Stephen Sondheim (lyricist)-premiered on Broadway on September 26, 1957, and ran for 734 performances. After a national tour that lasted a year, it returned to Broadway for an additional 249 performances. A bona fide hit but not a megahit like Oklahoma! or My Fair Lady, West Side Story eventually logged in as the twelfth longest-running show of the 1950s. The Bernstein-Sondheim-Laurents-Robbins collaboration contains a dream ballet and a mimed prologue that creates a backdrop for the story to follow. More than perhaps any previous book musical, West Side Story uses dance for many additional purposes, not only in musical numbers where characters would be expected to dance (the “Dance at the Gym” and “America”), but in more stylized choreographic settings for several of the show's crucial dramatic events (“The Rumble” and “Taunting Scene”). The creators of West Side Story also managed to take a canonic and extremely well-loved Shakespeare play and adapt it for 1950s audiences while remaining faithful to the spirit of the original. Most significantly, the adaptation both provides dramatically credible and audible musical equivalents of Shakespeare's literary techniques and captures his central themes.
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