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The Importance of West Side Story

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West Side Story is one of the great contributors to musical theatre, in particular Broadway where it originally opened on September 26 1957 at the Winter garden Theatre. The production ran for 732 performances before entering the world of film in 1961. However, I believe its significance lies in the heart of the theatre where the audience is subjected to different styles of music, dance and of course an adaptation of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. In fact, Leonard Bernstein first decided to call his play East Side Story but opted against it, due to social relevancy. Instead the story would take place on the West side of New York; Brooklyn, under a realistic urban setting, hence West Side Story. This decision may have improved the way in which we perceive the show today as the "street gang image" makes the story more effective and real to an audience of any age. In fact, the Prologue and Jet Song are very fitting to the show as they introduce the two main gangs (The Sharks and The Jets). In many ways, the music reflects the story. To begin with the slow, suave chords and motif (see below) suggest the Jets arrival, which is interrupted by the Puerto Rican, Bernado who is the leader of the Jets (Bars 41-56). Here, the first Latin theme is heard by 4-pitched drums. As the hostility between the two gangs develops, so does the music's complexity with the use of tritons, ostinatos, often across the beat (E.g. Bar 22 -28). These harmonic and rhythmic ideas are typical of classical music, first used some four hundred years ago, yet here they are featuring in a musical. This is just one justification of the importance West Side Story had on musical theatre. Its true subject was the growing menace of juvenile delinquency, as Bernste... ... middle of paper ... ...e time and has paved the way for so many more musicals in the past fifty years. W.S.S. established a new gritty style, which inspired later shows like Cabaret and Les Miserables. It showed how a strong plot offers more dramatic and musical potential than a dependence upon the bright and cheerful themes of the preceding era dominated by composers such as Rogers & Hammerstein and Gilbert & Sullivan. In my opinion too many shows have tried to follow in the footsteps of West Side Story, such as Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat but lack the detail of composition. It tries to incorporate too many different styles of music from 50s rock to French song to typical 90s pop. Leonard Bernstein was able to form a balance in his music; a superb adaptation of one of Shakespeare's finest plays applying modern day ethics and cultures, something that had never been created before.
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