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August 30, 2002 - Image 78

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2002-08-30

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

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,114

8/30

2002

78

www.detroitjewishnews.com

Find
out
before your mother!

The catalyst for the creation of West
Side Story was born Jerome
Robinowitz in 1918.
Robbins, who had honed his chore-
ographic skills in New York's Yiddish
Theater and at the famous Catskills
resorts, threatened to pull out of the
languishing project unless his col-
leagues took action.
Bernstein, chiefly a writer and con-
ductor of "long hair" pieces, put
down his baton long enough to create
the music. Laurents, who usually
wrote serious dramas, got going on
the book. Sondheim, who was taught
to play the piano by his father, a suc-
cessful dress manufacturer, sneaked
into the project after a chance meet-
ing with Laurents.
In his choreography, Robbins creat-
ed the forerunner of dancing that
became familiar on the Broadway
stage in later years — the finger-snap-
ping, crouching, lurching and leaping
steps used to build dramatic tension
among the Jets and the Sharks.
To maintain strong team spirit,
Robbins kept the gang-member actors
apart while rehearsing or any time
they were in the theater. They never
had lunch together or mixed socially
in any way. An antagonistic wall was
built up between them so they could
commit to each other and the entire
show.

-

When Jet gang actor Tony
Mordente started to date Shark gang
actress Chita Rivera (they later mar-
ried), the Jet actors stopped talking to
Mordente.
The show marked the Broadway
debut for Sondheim, whose music
idol was Oscar Hammerstein. Twelve
years younger than Bernstein,
Sondheim, whose experience had
been in writing for television, clashed
with him right away. He preferred to
work at night, but that interfered
with Bernstein's conducting schedule,
so they had to compromise.
Both Laurents, now 84, and
Sondheim, 72 — the surviving mem-
bers of the original four — expressed
embarrassment. in later years over
some of the quaint words they had to
use in their text and lyrics to comply
with the somewhat puritanical theater
jargon of the time.

Laurents invented such street slang
as "cracko jacko" and "frabbajabba."
Sondheim relied on "buddy boy,"
"golly, Moses," "when the spit hits the
fan," and "mother-lovin' street."
The negative aspects of West Side
Story — the brutality and venomous
hatred of the gang warriors — had a
chilling effect on prospective audi-
ences and the show played only 732
performances in its initial run. In
comparison, Oklahoma lasted for
2,248 performances and My Fair Lady
for 2,717.
But a cross-country tour and 1960
Broadway revival, with 249 more per-
formances, created new interest. Also,
audiences throughout the country fell
in love with the excellent movie with
Natalie Wood as Maria and Richard
Beymer as Tony, plus one of the best
supporting casts in film history.
It won -10 Academy Awards in
1961, including best picture, best
supporting actor and actress and best
director. .

On Stage In Detroit

The directors of the upcoming Fox
production of West Side Story came to
the project determined to re-create the
show as it was in 1957.
To many, the show's most innova-
tive quality is its dancing. Although
based on ballet techniques, the dance
sequences have the look of natural-
style, modern dance. And almost the
entire cast dances.
Three of the young dancers in the
Fox cast are Jewish and have prior
West Side Story experience.
D.J. Chase (formerly David J.
.Chawsky of Cherry Hill, N.J.), 28,
who plays Jet gang member A-rab,
started taking dance lessons at age 9,
defying his father, who wanted him to

"When you're a Jew, you're a Jet all the way ...": Michael Raine is Jet gang member
Baby John; Rachel Bress plays Jet girlfriend Clarice; and D.J. Chase portrays Jet
gang member A-rab.

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