The Revivals of the fittest
One compensation of New York City life is that even the unpleasant parts come wrapped in legend. Your commute toBrooklyn might be a drag, but hey, Walt Whitman did it before you, and immortalized it in a poem. For generations, no art form has done more to make the city a place of fables than the Broadway musical. From Rodgers and Hart´s “Manhattan” in 1925 to “Christopher Street” in “Wonderful Town” to “Another Hundred People” in “Company”, songwriters haven´t just reflected their madcap city – they´ve helped to define it.
Now, just when New Yorkers are in the midst of a spiritual flogging – upstaged by Obama´s Washington, humbled by Wall Street´s collapse, perplexed by real estate prices that are almost reasonable – the two greatest New York musicals have returned. If staged well, “West Side Story”, with its native-born and Puerto Rican gang warfare, distills the violence, frustrated dreams and tragic undertow of this immigrant town. And “Guys and Dolls”, with its hustlers and zealous (though badly outnumbered) religious believers, captures the ingenuity of New York´s street poetry, the hard-edged sense of humor that is constantly demanded of people forced to navigate these sidewalks every day. Both of the revivals take liberties with the material, in hopes of speaking more directly to our vexed moment. Each tells a very different story about the way we live in the nation´s artistic capital now.
The chief novelty of the revival of “West Side Story” directed by Arthur Laurents, the show´s 91-year old librettist, is that considerable chuncks of the sad tale of Tony and Maria are now spoken and sung in Spanish. When this happens the first time, in a scene between Maria (Josefina Scaglione) and Anita (Karen Olivo, who just became a great big star), your eyes flick instinctively to the proscenium arch for a translation to appear. It doesn´t. This prompts two thoughts in quick succession: (1) Hey, you have to know Spanish to understand what they´re saying. (2) Wait – why don´t I know Spanish?
(Newsweek, March 30, 2009)
From Rodgers and Hart´s “Manhattan” in 1925 to “Christopher Street” in “Wonderful Town” to “Another Hundred People” in “Company”, songwriters haven´t just reflected their madcap city – they ´ve helped to define it.
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