It is interesting to find the 50th anniversary of the most lauded musical ever written West Side Story without any mention of the history of when it first appeared on Broadway.
Half a century ago middle-class adult theatergoers were shocked and appalled by the brutality of the ethnic gang warfare of West Side Story.
The original 1957 Broadway production was criticized for glamorizing gangs, and for its portrayal of the Puerto Ricans who, as New Yorks newest immigrants, were grappling with the many obstacles that appear when you uproot to a new country with a different language and culture. It made great points in its description of troubled youth and the devastating effects of poverty and racism.
However, after massive demonstrations by the Puerto Rican community and the Spanish language press of the day the Broadway run was disappointing by todays standards. It played for a mere 732 performances before going on tour.
The current revivals (and there are many) seen through the rose colored glasses that only time can produce turns its urban Romeo and Juliet and most of its young switchblade wielding characters into one of the most beloved musicales ever written. Tragedies rarely make for great musicals except in the world of opera, but the exuberance of youth is captured in the finger snapping, pulsating music of Leonard Bernsteins composition.
One of the most interesting revivals out there is an album made with a bright young international cast (whose ages closely resemble that of the characters they play) of whos who. In this version New Zealand soprano Haley Westerna sings the lead role of Maria and pairs up with Italian tenor Vittorio Grigolo as Tony to immortalize the beautiful music and lyrics of Bernstein and Sondheim that never seem to age like the beautiful Tonight.
West Side Story is most enthralling when Tony (a doomed idealistic Polish-American) and Maria (the virginal Puerto Rican) cross the ethnic divide to pursue the pipe dream of happiness together. In their mock marriage ceremony singing One hand, One Hear they swear even death cant part us now.
Carmen Ileana Roman writes a monthly column for fredericknewspost.com.