Friday, March 27, 2009

Friday Dance Party: Mambo!

Stephen Sondheim must be having a pretty good week. He had a birthday (79! wow) and the major revival of his first Broadway show, West Side Story, got a nice nod from the NY Times. It's being directed by the show's librettist Arthur Laurents (in his 90s! Double wow), who adjusted some of the dialogue to be spoken in Spanish. Well, it makes sense that the Puerto Ricans at the heart of the story would not be speaking English when they are alone together. That aspect of the revival is getting mixed comments, most of them agreeing in principle, but noting that theatre-goers not already familiar with the story may be a bit lost. Are you kidding me? Who doesn't know West Side Story??

I bet Sondheim is pleased that one of his songs, "I Feel Pretty," is now being sung totally in Spanish. Perhaps the translated lyrics do not commit the same sins which Sondheim believes the original words do; he's complained for years that the song's lyrics are too sophisticated for a character such as Maria (a girl right off the boat from Puerto Rico would not be using interior rhyme). Relax, Steve, nobody cares. Instead, revel in the knowledge that a piece written a whopping 50 years ago still holds some interest. That interest has been maintained, at least partially, due to the hugely successful film version from 1961. West Side Story the movie is still considered one of the finest film adaptations of a stage musical, and was nominated for 11 Oscars. It won all but one, losing Best Adapted Screenplay to that other tunefest, Judgement at Nuremberg.

WSS is one of those chestnuts which I thoroughly admire and yet never had a desire to perform. I appeared in an abridged, one-hour version in college, as a directing project for my friend Judy, but would never have landed a role in a professional production (I had dark hair, so I was cast as one of the Puerto Ricans, pretty laughable, as I am the whitest guy anybody ever met). I suppose I could play poor Glad Hands now, the adult schnook who arranges the dance at the gym which gets the love story going. In the film, John Astin took the role, and gave no evidence that he could play that lothario Gomez Addams a few years later. Honestly, I don't know how he was able to stand at the sidelines, listening to this dynamic music by Leonard Bernstein, and fight the urge to join in.
Anyway, in honor of Sondheim's birthday, and the current revival of his first hit, and because George Chakiris looks so suave in his lavender shirt, and because I couldn't find any dance numbers in Judgement at Nuremberg (even with Judy Garland in the cast) please enjoy the Dance at the Gym. Sock Hops at my high school never looked like this...