Today we continue the 2014 edition of our annual BroadwayWorld feature series spotlighting the very best Tony Awards-related moments of all time with a special focus on one of the most high profile musicals ever written, WEST SIDE STORY.
Leonard Bernstein. Stephen Sondheim. Arthur Laurents. Jerome Robbins. William Shakespeare. Could a more wildly ambitious and attention-worthy creative team possibly ever top that? Not likely. WEST SIDE STORY is the ideal artistic fulfillment of a tricky and complex treatment of a revered text as only geniuses such as these men could have ever conjured up. What began as a dance-based musical taking on the then-pertinent social conflict of opposing minorities in the rapidly-changing New York City of the late 1950s ultimately came to be one of the most ubiquitous and unusual musicals in theatre history. Gritty, ambitious, dangerous and oh-so cool, WEST SIDE STORY is a true anomaly in the musical theatre canon, not only in its ambitions but also in its notoreity - and for very good reason.
Let's start with the score: honestly, has a finer musical theatre song stack ever been created? It would be tough to find a show with this many recognizable hits, after all. From the rhapsodic "Tonight" to the lilting "Maria" to the touching "One Hand, One Heart" to the spine-tingling "Somewhere" to the searing "A Boy Like That", rollicking "Gee, Officer Krupke", syncopated "Cool" and that absolutely unforgettable opener, "Something's Coming", WEST SIDE STORY is overloaded with musical majesty and goes a long way in disproving the notion that dense, complex and intellectual music is somehow incapable of being hummable. Indeed, it is nearly impossible not to hum these tunes once you have heard them. The fact that the Billboard record for the longest-running #1 album of all-time is the movie soundtrack for WEST SIDE STORY speaks well to its popularity, as well.
Besides the score, WEST SIDE STORY also packs a major punch insofar as the ripe acting opportunities it affords its corps - Tony's valiant modern-day Romeo to Maria's sweet contemporary Juliet through to the antics of Riff, The Jets, The Sharks, and, of course, Maria's smart and sassy friend, Anita. Jerome Robbins provided each and every character with masterful movement to mirror their character's inner-lives and to express their innermost thoughts and feelings through choreography, as expertly enacted in the unforgettable "Dance At The Gym" sequence and reaching its artistic and dramatic apotheosis in the "Somewhere" ballet. The combination of dance and detailed characterization coupled with the masterpiece of a score and the classic story upon which it is all based cumulatively helped to craft the best of the best as far as musical theatre goes - whether in 1957 or 2014.
So, now, let's take a look at some of the most appreciable WEST SIDE STORY-related clips from Tony Awards telecasts and beyond.
First, check out this rare footage of the original Broadway production of WEST SIDE STORY.
Next, Tony Award winner Debbie Allen leads "America" from the 1980 revival.
Now, the 2009 revival perform "Dance At The Gym" on the Tony Awards.
What precisely is it about WEST SIDE STORY that continues to inspire us and move us more than 50 years after its debut? Furthermore, when forced to choose between WEST SIDE STORY and THE MUSIC MAN as the Tony Awards committee actually did way back when, which would you crown as the champion? With such a timeless central tale and such an iconic score, it would be difficult not to view WEST SIDE STORY as one of the true red, white and blue American greats of all time. Real cool.