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Posted on May 7th, 2014, by

Broadway Musical

Art seldom exists for art itself. In this or that way, an artist expresses himself in his artwork, and what is more, he reflects the situation and environment he exists and creates in. Accordingly, there are different functions fulfilled by various forms of art. They bring us esthetic pleasure; they enhance our spiritual growth and development, expanding the boundaries of our conscience; they make us feel ourselves a part of something essential when we are a part of audience; and, eventually, each artwork becomes a small piece of the historical background and can be used as an important artifact to get an impression of when and where it was created. Although musicals appeared only in the twentieth century, this genre is not an exclusion to fulfill all those functions. The United States have brought out a new form of covering socially important issues in a form available to wide audience. Having united music, choreography, dialogues and bright costumes, the authors of musicals have revealed an unsurpassed tool to speak of serious things in a light manner, to fascinate, thrill and agitate the audience simultaneously and, after all, to get striking profits for that. Apart from that, many musicals manage to overcome the limits of time and space and go on winning the viewers’ hearts long after the premiere and far from the first stage. For that end, probably, a musical should have some really persuasive dignities and should carry some essential message for each generation. Just in that way, the test of time and space has been stood by such American musicals as The West Side Story and Miss Saigon, now both played throughout the world.

The West Side Story was originally produced in 1957, but it is still popular with different professional and amateur theaters (before going on tour, it ran for 732 performances). It was originally written on the basis of Arthur Laurents’ book, with music by Leonard Bernstein and lyrics written by Stephen Sondheim. Jerome Robbins is responsible for choreography and overall conception. The idea of the musical was to make an adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. First Jerome Robbins offered to reveal a conflict between an Irish American Roman Catholic family and a Jewish family. The conflict was located at the Lower East Side of Manhattan. The Jewish “Juliet”¯ was a survivor of Holocaust and an emigrant from Israel, and anti-Semitism was going to be the central theme of the musical. Thus, West Side Story was first meant to be an East Side Story, but there was no agreement between Laurents, composer, lyricist and theatrical producers. They went on searching for other variants, and a decisive meeting took place at the Beverly Hills Hotel in 1955 (Long 2003, p. 33). Laurents and Bernstein discussed recent social phenomenon fairly covered in all the local newspapers. This phenomenon was Chicano turf war and the problem of juvenile delinquent gangs. Being inspired by the resonant issue, Laurents decided to set the scene in Los Angeles instead of Manhattan and the conflict was put between Puerto Ricans and the white community in Harlem. A musical with a Latin beat caused a lot of enthusiasm among all the stakeholders. An Irish American guy was substituted by an emigrant of Polish and Irish descent, and the Jewish girl was changed for a Puerto Rican heroine.

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