The presentation of "Cool" in its original pre-rumble slot possesses an unexpected and sublimely original duality, another unique and brilliant example of the seemingly inexhaustible genius of choreographer and composer. While the characters are meant to be literally cooling off, the dancers who portray them are as frenetic and dynamic as they could possibly be. The music—initially grim and foreboding, eventually explosive—manages to sustain, even intensify the anxiety rather than dispel it. Gang members and audiences alike are anything but calmed in anticipation of the confrontation with the Sharks. The only people who may be relieved are the dancers, knowing they have accomplished one more performance of this demanding, dazzling dance. Once again the story is driven by the score and, ingeniously, not interrupted by it.
The Jets play it cool
Broadway Original Cast
[l-r] Tony Mordente, Grover Dale, Carole D'Andrea, Wilma Curley, Mickey Calin, Lee Becker, Hank Brunjes, Eddie Roll, David Winters, and Tommy Abbott (hidden).
ONE HAND, ONE HEART
This love song was recruited from the score of Candide, another musical that Leonard Bernstein was composing during the gestation of West Side Story. Actually the deal was something of a trade. The earlier song scheduled for the bridal shop scene was light and cheerful, in keeping with the playful business of pretending to meet the families. This song was moved to Candide and became "Oh, Happy We" while "One Hand, One Heart" (still called "One," as listed in some of the earliest out-of-town programs) was placed into the Fire Escape Scene. Arthur Laurents is said to have had made the suggestion to re-position the song into the bridal shop scene for the lovers’ second-day meeting, and the more soaring "Tonight" became the fervent declaration of love at the fire escape. Even into the 21st century, "One Hand, One Heart" remains a favored selection for wedding ceremonies.
Jossie de Guzman and Ken Marshall as Maria and Tony
Broadway Revival Cast
Fans of the later works of Stephen Sondheim quickly became accustomed to the composer’s penchant for intricate musical compositions. A complicated counterpoint presentation became something of a staple in a Sondheim score, and the Quintet can be said to be the place where it all began. This remarkable work is unique in the score in engaging the vocal talents of all five principal players at the same time, and, with the play virtually half over, it is actually the vocal introduction of the Sharks. Though one song, the Quintet states with incredible deftness and economy the height of emotion for five different entities. If the common theme can be called "passion," then it is passion expressed on no fewer than three separate levels simultaneously: The playful lusty passion of a carefree girlfriend, the eager passion of two lovers, and the smoldering hatred of two gangs. The urgent anticipation of the Jets and Sharks is unmistakable both on stage and in the orchestra. Tony’s own eagerness is superbly demonstrated by his singing the release ("Today, the minutes seem like hours…")one full measure ahead of the orchestra. Once again, the song does not interrupt the action but instead propels it along, vividly and dramatically. This electric, multi-layered vocal masterpiece is a testament to the extraordinary talents of its casts, usually remembered for dancing and not for singing.
Broadway Revival, 1980
Broadway Revival, 1980
Once again does West Side Story offer the audience a staggering feat of ingenuity, as the gutter warfare is presented with stylized choreography and movement. The original set by Oliver Smith certainly rose to the occasion, and the tugging music masterfully sets an ominous tone. But the inevitable yet horrific consequence of the gang hatreds is incontestably the property of its gifted choreographer, and also of the gifted young men who have performed it. While, to its credit, it appears to be the least structured of all the dances, in actuality every step, every count was meticulously planned and has every step and count that follows dependent on the last. Though we thank Shakespeare for the germ of an idea, we are most grateful to the incredible Jerome Robbins for spinning out yet another stunning original work.
Larry Kert and George Marcy
I FEEL PRETTY
With the intermission curtain having just fallen on two dead bodies, the second act of West Side Story opens with an unexpectedly light tone, as Maria and her friends play out the suggestions of her merry and romantic mood. Along with the "Cool"/"Gee, Officer Krupke" switch, the song made a dramatic move to an earlier slot for the film version, preserving the jolly atmosphere but removing the stunning irony of having the smitten girl unwittingly sing of her love for her brother’s murderer. While lyricist Stephen Sondheim has expressed some misgivings over a perceived mismatch between character and lyrics, the song nevertheless provides the ideal leading-lady showcase for its actress and, in its stage incarnation, continues to engage and intrigue its already off-guard audiences.
"I Feel Pretty"
1957 Pretty, witty and gay
[l-r] Elizabeth Taylor, Carmen Guiterrez, Marilyn Cooper, and Carol Lawrence
Pretty, witty and gay in Hollywood
[l-r] Yvonne Othon, Suzie Kaye, Joanne Miya, and Natalie Wood
As Tony Mordente points out elsewhere on this site, the Ballet in the second act was a regular staple of the Broadway musical for many years, and West Side Story was no exception. Whether presented as a dream, a waking fantasy, or some imaginary or surreal element of the tale, the Act Two Ballet was the pièce de résistance of the score, colorful to watch and invariably more masterfully choreographed than the rest of the show. Going back at least to Oklahoma! and perhaps earlier, all the way forward to WSS contemporary Flower Drum Song, Broadway theatergoers came to expect the featured highlight as a matter of course, and expected, too, something more than standard Broadway hoofing. The inherent problem of casting singers who were not dancers was addressed with the use of fill-ins. The main characters were by definition an important part of the ballet. However the leading performers playing those characters in a musical like Oklahoma! were usually recruited primarily for their singing and acting ability. So in order to achieve the results demanded of the ballet, trained dancers bearing a passing resemblance to the assigned character would perform in the ballet on the lead player's behalf. Thus did come about such roles as Dream Curly, Dream Laurey, Dream Jud, and many more before and since. The fill-in trend was scheduled to continue in West Side Story, since both Carol Lawrence and Larry Kert were understood to be singers who could act, though not necessarily dancers. During rehearsals, a second look was given to the idea of fill-in dancers—partly thanks to the intervention (and ambition) of Miss Lawrence—and in the end the two leads performed their own roles in the ballet alongside the trained members of the company. For West Side Story the concept of fill-ins died before it came into being, and the "real" Tony and Maria have been required to do their own dancing in every production since.
Jets and Sharks are united in dance
Jerome Robbins' Broadway
GEE, OFFICER KRUPKE
The Jets take an unexpected detour into what many dismiss as conventional musical comedy with the lively "Gee, Officer Krupke." Originally performed in the second act, the filmmakers re-thought the propriety of the comic lyrics and the characters' boisterous vaudeville antics in the more literal, more mood-sensitive medium of film. Thus "Krupke" was moved, along with "I Feel Pretty," to less troubled times before the rumble. The re-positioning of "Krupke" to the earlier slot was indeed considered for the original stage version, but the idea was rejected thanks to the persuasive arguments of librettist Arthur Laurents.
Like "One Hand, One Heart" the melody of this raucous song was commandeered from the score of the earlier Bernstein effort Candide, and is said to have been added to the production as late as July 1957, approximately one month before the first preview.
Broadway Original Cast
[l-r]David Winters, Tommy Abbott, Eddie Roll, Tony Mordente, Lowell Harris, Martin Charnin, Hank Brunjes, and Grover Dale.
A BOY LIKE THAT
One of the objections raised by Arthur Laurents at the prospect of working with Leonard Bernstein was his justified fear of the work turning out to be an opera (not to mention a serious ballet, in the equally artistic hands of Jerome Robbins), and though the Maestro gave his collaborators no cause to fear such a prospect, the multi-faceted score does face that direction in this dramatic song. The agonized soubrette faces the no-longer innocent heroine in a fiery cannonade of accusations and recriminations, and, in this case, a defiant indictment for betraying one’s heritage. This is indeed the stuff of opera, placed so strategically at the late end of the show that audiences are too saturated with the story to reject the dramatic confrontation on the sole grounds of theatrical exaggeration. Anita’s complicated character takes on yet another facet in this bold and original song.
U.K. Tour and London 1984
Lee Robinson [l] and Jan Hartley
I HAVE A LOVE
The character of Maria turns from importunate girl to self-sufficient woman in the dramatic segue from the fervent and ultimately scolding passage that follows "A Boy Like That" to the poised and confident young lady who sings "I Have a Love." Strains of the melody have already been heard in the Processional of the Dream Ballet and are reminiscent even of the fiery "Boy" that just precedes it, though tempo and attitude go far to mask the similarity. The audience, who for an entire act have been continuously led by their noses from one seesawing surprise to another, from the misleading merriment of "I Feel Pretty" through the joys and horrors of the ballet, and the unexpected jaunt of "Krupke" to the severity of "A Boy Like That" may finally hear this moving and uncomplicated declaration of love and warily decide, with some justification, that the story may be leading to a climax that is hopeful and not tragic. That this radiant music precedes, not a romantic reconciliation, but rather a rape attempt and yet another murder is nothing less than a phenomenon. "Genius" doesn’t begin to describe it.
Broadway Original Cast 1957
Chita Rivera and Carol Lawrence
The Taunting of Anita may not be everyone’s idea of a musical number, but, like the Rumble, it is most assuredly the result of precise and difficult choreography. After the near-operatic presentation of "I Have a Love," this explosive eleventh-hour confrontation between woman and gang, and the crucial lie that propels the story to its tragic conclusion, is an astonishing combination of a harsh literal depiction of the facts of the story and a stunning symbolic display of the nature and results of prejudice.
With classical genius, the creators scored this ugly scene with partially re-worked music of two earlier, decidedly lighter numbers. Thus Anita’s shining and carefree triumphs in "America" and the Mambo portion of The Dance at the Gym are invoked here to describe her cruel and unjust humiliation.
Broadway Original Cast
Chita Rivera and [l-r] Martin Charnin, Lee Becker (background), Tommy Abbott, Hank Brunjes, Tony Mordente, Grover Dale, David Winters, and Frank Green
The Finale of West Side Story is an amalgam of now-familiar themes, principally "Somewhere" and a strain from "I Have a Love." The music that underscored a solemn procession of hope in the Dream Ballet now, without the slightest change of tempo or orchestration, is the death knell of loss and despair. The "full-circle" swing that evokes the joyous Ballet at this tragic juncture is the final and perhaps the most impressive display of artistry in the piece. The work ends without irony, reconciliation or any reason to hope for a better future. The accompanying music ends accordingly—sad, formal and somber, literally low-key. A unique ending for a unique work of art.
Broadway Original Cast
Carol Lawrence and Larry Kert
with Jaime Sanchez, far left, as Chino, and George Marcy, far right, as Pepe.