This musical holds a special significance for me because it won the Best Picture Oscar in 1961, the year I was born. The score, by Leonard Bernstein, is pure genius.
I recently had the good fortune to see a new production of the Broadway musical version performed at the Stratford Festival in Ontario. It was a fantastic show and the entire cast did an amazing job. The choreography of Sergio Trujillo was innovative and powerful. As the days pass (I saw this last Monday) I am more and more entranced with the music and the story has been taking up residence in my head. So, I now present for you, Kat’s poetic take on West Side Story.
But first, allow me to deviate for one moment to open with a piece from whence this great play originates:
Act 1, Prologue
Two households, both alike in dignity,
In fair Verona, where we lay our scene,
From ancient grudge break to new mutiny,
Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean.
From forth the fatal loins of these two foes
A pair of star-cross’d lovers take their life;
Whole misadventured piteous overthrows
Do with their death bury their parents’ strife.
The fearful passage of their death-mark’d love,
And the continuance of their parents’ rage,
Which, but their children’s end, nought could remove,
Is now the two hours’ traffic of our stage;
The which if you with patient ears attend,
What here shall miss, our toil shall strive to mend.
(From Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare)
West Side Story
First the Jets, and then the Sharks
Leave their territorial marks;
Tony wants to change his life;
Works with paint, not pointy knife.
Meanwhile young Maria sews
Gowns for brides but nowhere goes;
Longs to have a U.S. life;
Make someone the perfect wife.
Now allowed to ‘tend a dance
Brother, ‘Nardo looks askance
When she tries to be grown up
He’ll protect hermana pup.
Maria longs to meet a boy;
For poor Chino, there’s no joy;
Sharks’ girls dance their skirts afloat;
Jets’ girls rival them and gloat.
In the hustle of the fuss
Tony and Maria buss;
Never more to go astray
Their true love begins this day.
Sharks and Jets the council hold
Challenging for hatred old;
Beat cops hope to intervene,
If they can just find the scene.
Nardo’s girl, Anita knows;
Maria’s secret longing shows;
Warns her off of rival lovers;
Cannot change what she discovers.
In the shop with gowns of white
New love marked by sacred rite;
Hopefulness they share in wonder;
Thinking none can put asunder.
At the battle, things go wrong;
Knives released into the throng;
Riff is dead at ‘Nardo’s doing;
Tony stabs HIM now he’s ruing
What he’s done to his love’s bro
In no time; she’s sure to know;
Chino brings her word of death;
Swears for Tony’s final breath.
Tony tries the first to tell;
All too late; can this go well?
Maria hears her Tony’s side;
Loves enough with him to bide.
Off he dashes for resources
To escape the legal forces;
Runs to Doc to get some dough;
Will they make it? Soon we’ll know.
Anita tries to Tony, find
To warn of Chino’s vengeful mind;
Jets torment and roughly tease
“Maria’s dead” she lies with ease.
Tony looks for Chino’s shot;
If she is gone, his life is naught;
Maria enters– calls his name;
Chino stands and takes his aim.
Down goes Jet-boy, Tony, dead;
Maria grabs the gun instead;
All too late a lesson’s learned;
Shakespeare’s play on its head’s turned.