We saw West Side Story, now in previews, Tuesday night. I first saw it with my mother, 50 years ago, and it is still fresh (except for an occasional “Daddi-o”) and delightful and heartbreaking. The music has charm and power – and staying power. Fifty years later, it still shines bright, and two days after seeing the revival, I can still hear that brilliant music in my head.
The lyrics are funny and winsome, and the dancing is – well, the dancing is just fantastic. All the product of three Jews – Leonard Bernstein, Stephen Sondheim, and Jerome Robbins. Well, four – Arthur Laurents is the director of the current version and wrote the “book” (with a little help from W.S.).
Like every other Jewish mother her age, my mother had been half in love with “Lenny” ever since his astonishing debut at 25, as a “fill-in” for Bruno Walter, at Carnegie Hall. He was gifted, he was young, he was Jewish – she was as proud of him as if she were his own mother.
At any rate, we shlepped into the city on a bus, something we did very rarely, and went to a matinee. We were so far from the stage that the faces were merely blurs, but the music enthralled us. All the way home, we glowed. I know that she glowed all the brighter because of “Jewish pride.”
One wonders what kind of creative crucible we used to have that such talents emerged from it. Perhaps it was a kind of “hybrid vigor” – new (or relatively new) Americans encountering a new culture, and taking from it and giving something back.