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A True Revival

from The New Yorker


“West Side Story” and “God of Carnage” on Broadway.

by John LahrMARCH 30, 2009

Gangs of New York: Karen Olivo, Josefina Scaglione, and Matt Cavenaugh star in Arthur Laurents’s bold revival.

West Side Story” (at the Palace, under the sure-handed direction of Arthur Laurents, who wrote the musical’s original book) is so exciting it makes you ache with pleasure. All the defining forces of the American fifties—velocity, mobility, confidence—are condensed into this superb retelling of the Romeo and Juliet legend, which plays out against the background of Latino-versus-Anglo gang violence. Like the tail fins on fifties American cars or the parabolic shapes of Populuxe furniture, “West Side Story” incarnates the dream of momentum in the golden age of the twentieth century. Everything about the show is streamlined: the fluid jolt of Jerome Robbins’s choreography; the exhilarating syncopation of Leonard Bernstein’s symphonic score; the bravura concision of Stephen Sondheim’s lyrics; the swiftness of Laurents’s storytelling—the book is one of the shortest in the history of the musical. The début of the show, in 1957—a production I saw—also marked the moment when the musical asserted its right to treat just about any subject (murder, rape, bigotry) as grist for popular entertainment. “West Side Story” is somehow both airborne and transcendent.

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Posted on March 23, 2009 by Editor

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