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Sunday, March 4, 2012

The Original Gangs of "West Side Story"

Posted by on Sun, Mar 4, 2012 at 10:59 AM

Jerome Robbins (god bless his sometimes-genius but often-dunderheaded soul) first pitched West Side Story to Leonard Bernstein as a tense standoff between Catholics and Jews during Passover/Easter.

Bernstein (god bless his more consistently genius soul) said Robbins's idea was "not very fresh"—i.e, booooo-ring—and held out for something better. That something came via a newspaper story about teenage gangs fighting to the death in San Bernardino. Good thing he waited.

In other news, Edward Albee says in an interview that most "people want to go to the theater and waste their time.” Based on most of the theater I see, that sounds about right.


Comments (5) RSS

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I didn't realize West Side Story's legend had become so tidy, with the Catholic/Jewish idea being laid neatly at Robbins' feet and the notion to improve it credited solely to Bernstein. My understanding is that they all noodled about with the premise for years. Arthur Laurents for one would hate the idea of Bernstein being painted as the one who set everyone straight.
Posted by gloomy gus on March 4, 2012 at 11:50 AM · Report this
heywhatsit!? 2
Edward Albee was finally right about something. Go figure.
Posted by heywhatsit!? on March 4, 2012 at 1:53 PM · Report this
I read that it wasn't just Catholics and Jews; that it was Irish and Jews because the musical possibilities were so rich (and some of the group dance patterns bear similarities). In addition, not long before the Catholic/Jewish angle was being considered, a show called "Abie's Irish Rose" had just opened, so the idea was scrapped.
Posted by Sarah in Olympia on March 4, 2012 at 8:24 PM · Report this
During the original run of Abie's Irish Rose in the 1920s, Robert Benchley was very entertainingly mean in Life. For example, "People laugh at this every night, which explains why democracy can never be a success."
Posted by Monty on March 4, 2012 at 9:26 PM · Report this

I heard that "Cats" was originally supposed to be about ocelots.
Posted by Supreme Ruler Of The Universe http://_ on March 4, 2012 at 9:41 PM · Report this

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