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August 27th, 2009

Some ‘West Side’ Lyrics Are Returned to English

By PATRICK HEALY

It should be one of the most pained, poignant moments in any production of “West Side Story”: a grief-stricken Anita tells her friend Maria to end her love affair with Tony because he has just killed Bernardo, Anita’s boyfriend and Maria’s brother.

Sitting together in tears on Maria’s bed, Anita delivers this message — as well as a rebuke to the interracial romance of Maria, who is Puerto Rican, and Tony, who is Polish-American — in the song “A Boy Like That,” toward the end of Act II:

A boy like that who’d kill your brother,
Forget that boy and find another,
One of your own kind,
Stick to your own kind!

In the current Broadway revival of “West Side Story” the creative team drew widespread notice this spring for having Lin-Manuel Miranda translate some English lyrics by Stephen Sondheim into Spanish, as part of a greater attempt at authenticity for Puerto Rican characters like Anita. Yet this summer the show’s director, Arthur Laurents, and some of the producers found that the Spanish lyrics were not jolting audiences the way they had hoped — nor paying off in the next scene when the white Jets gang members try to rape Anita.

“Audiences were getting the general idea of ‘A Boy Like That,’ but they weren’t getting hammered by it,” Mr. Laurents said in an interview Wednesday. “The sheer power of ‘A boy like that who’d kill your brother’ has no real equivalent, and for people who don’t understand Spanish, the impact was diluted.”

After discussions among Mr. Laurents, the producers and some of the actors, most of the lyrics in “A Boy Like That” were converted back to English beginning with last Thursday’s performance; the decision was announced Tuesday.Read more...Collapse )

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