West Side Story -- a new production of the great musical by Leonard Bernstein, Arthur Laurents, Stephen Sondheim, and of course Jerome Robbins -- has arrived on Broadway, opening last night. It's an event.
Since I haven't seen it yet, I asked my friend Amanda Vaill -- who has -- to weigh in. Amanda wrote both Somewhere: The Life of Jerome Robbins (2006) and Jerome Robbins: Something to Dance About, the American Masters documentary that aired on PBS last month. Robbins was billed as the choreographer, director and conceiver of the 1957 original production, which was seen as a radical show.
What was Robbins trying to do with his staging of West Side Story?
Since 1944 -- just after his and Leonard Bernstein's triumph with the ballet Fancy Free -- Robbins had dreamed of creating what he called a new form for theater, a "braiding" of action, music, and dance. West Side Story was the result: a play in which dancing, and music, wouldn't just complement the action-- they would be the action. The dances he made for his cast of young gang members were supposed to convey the anger and passion of inner city kids, show off the individual characters of each, and carry the plot forward -- just like the non-dance scenes, which he also directed.