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West Side Stories - The Making of a Classic

West Side Story is one of the best loved musicals of all time. A modern day Romeo and Juliet, its timeless story and exhilarating dance and music continue to excite audiences around the globe. Songs such as Maria, Somewhere, Tonight, and America have all become some of the biggest hits in show business.

Now, as the world prepares to celebrate the 60th anniversary of West Side Story in 2017, dancer Bruno Tonioli and broadcaster Suzy Klein go in search of the true stories behind the inception of this classic show.

With the BBC Symphony Orchestra and specially cast singers we re-live some of the wonderful music, and in the company of Suzy and Bruno we discover how West Side Story placed the 1950s phenomena of racial tension and teenage gangs centre stage to create a hit that changed musical theatre forever.

The opening night

The original Maria relives the opening night of West Side Story. Set to the 'Tonight' quintet.

petzipellepingo: (music by tyger_tiger)
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The secret life of the American musical : how Broadway shows are built by Jack Viertel.

p. 164- 166

For many shows, the question of where to drop the curtain must have been difficult to answer. Is the anticipation harder to bear than the act itself? "What will happen?" better than "Look what just happened!"?

West Side Story used a variation of a classical technique to answer the question, the finaletto. Finaletto is a fancy opera term that refers to a piece of music that ends a scene. Often, it suggests a small cluster of reprises or intertwining songs. It doesn't end the whole show (that's the finale ultimo ). A proper finaletto may take many forms, but it often manages to convey a group of differing points of view from different characters, letting us know that there are clearly defined conflicts and differences of opinion at this point in the story. But it also, by reprising familiar melodic strains in a small bouquet, reminds us of how these people feel and what they've been through emotionally. Finaletti were de rigueur in the operettas and musicals of the '20s and '30s but were still often in use in the '60s, though you find them less often today. And the shows that used them don't have to be high minded just because the word is Italian; the first act of How to Succeed concludes with a finaletto -it's even labeled that way in the playbill. But the Tonight Quintet from West Side Story is probably the finest of them-except it doesn't end the act, and it's only partly a reprise.
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petzipellepingo: (music by tyger_tiger)
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Finishing the hat : collected lyrics (1954-1981) with attendant comments, principles, heresies, grudges, whines and anecdotes by Stephen Sondheim

p. 26 The second regret was that many of the lyrics in "West Side Story" suffer from a self-conscious effort to be what Lenny deemed "poetic". I had originally been hired to be a co-lyricist with him, and I knew from the start that I was getting into a collaboration with someone whose idea of poetic lyric writing was the antithesis of mine-but Oscar had given me such confidence that I naively thought I could prevail. The collaboration was a delight in every way except for the lyrical result. Lenny was supportive but insistent, and I was just insecure enough to accede and present him with lines like "Today the world was just an address" and "I have a love," these sung by street kids on the pavements of New York City. He especially liked "Tonight there will be no morning star": granted, Tony is supposed to be a dreamy character, but it's unlikely he's even seen a morning star (you don't see stars in Manhattan except at the Planetarium), much less that he would be inclined to use it as an image. Lenny kept encouraging me to come up with these maunderings, but by the time we got around to "Something's Coming" late in rehearsals, I had rebuilt enough confidence over two years of collaboration to insist on the kind of imagery I though Tony should be using-baseball, for example, rather than the night over Manhattan.


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