The Muny in Forest Park closes out the 2013 season with "West Side Story," the much-loved musical that's still an audience favorite. Featuring music and lyrics by Leonard Bernstein and a young Steven Sondheim, and a book by Arthur Laurents, this modern retelling of Shakespeare's classic Romeo and Juliet still feels fresh and exciting, even though it has been more than 50 years since its debut.
Just as I was thinking that a concert devoted to American music would be incomplete without including a work by Samuel Barber, I arrived at Powell Hall to discover that—sadly—due to a soloist’s illness, Aaron Copland’s "Quiet City" would be replaced by Barber’s famous "Adagio for Strings". With fervent hopes for the soloist’s recovery, the inclusion of the Barber rounded out a program that was a veritable showcase of some of the many jewels of American music.
“There was a desert wind blowing that night. It was one of those hot dry Santa Anas that come down through the mountain passes and curl your hair and make your nerves jump and your skin itch. On nights like that every booze party ends in a fight. Meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husbands' necks. Anything can happen.” – Raymond Chandler, “Red Wind” (1938)
It was a lively and entertaining evening at Powell Hall last night with a dance-infused program that included three of Dvořák’s popular “Slavonic Dances”, Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue”, Bernstein’s still-amazing “Symphonic Dances from West Side Story”, and an appropriately hallucinatory reading of Ravel’s death knell for the 19th century, “La Valse”.
Gritty and earthy, Arthur Laurent’s West Side Story had a profound effect on its audiences when it opened on Broadway in 1957 and indeed some say the Leonard Bernstein score, the Stephen Sondheim lyrics, and the smashing choreography by Jerome Robbins changed the course of American musical theater forever.