The new West Side Story.

It has the potential to be so. Effing. Great.

It also scares me a little. Here are a few paragraphs of the first article (from Playbill), just to show you why I’m so excited, so excited, so…scared:

The production “will introduce the unprecedented element of selectively weaving Spanish throughout both the book and songs,” according to the July 16 announcement.

Laurents, who earned solid reviews (and a 2008 Tony nomination) for staging the current Broadway run of Gypsy, stated, “This show will be radically different from any other production of West Side Story ever done. The musical theatre and cultural conventions of 1957 made it next to impossible for the characters to have authenticity. Every member of both gangs was always a potential killer even then. Now they actually will be. Only Tony and Maria try to live in a different world…”

The Spanish could catapult this show into something we’ve never really seen before, a masterpiece that really straddles cultures in an integrated, effective way. It also bodes well for the casting–no Natalie Wood/Marni Nixon combos here. The Spanish could also, conceivably, become showy and off-putting, highlighting the fact that, well, no Puerto Ricans were really involved with creating the damn thing in the first place.

And then there’s the “potential killer” element–I have no idea where they’re going to go with that. It could go really, really badly. I think part of this show’s charm has always been that the gangsters were kind of goofy, and I can’t imagine that adding a “realistic” hard edge is going to be an improvement on that, but we’ll see. At the very least, it’s a huge cast, huge orchestra, and the original choreography. I really can’t complain.

Note: I read the Times article after I originally published this post.  I get the same feeling of excitement and dread.  Here’s the end of that article:

Mr. Laurents said he intended to cast Hispanic actors in the roles of the Puerto Rican Sharks and particularly the lead role of Maria.

“I’m not about to go slap some dark makeup on her,” Mr. Laurents said. “I think it’s important to have a Latina in the role for a very simple reason — I think they know what it feels like to be an outsider. If they’ve got Puerto Rican blood, they know what prejudice is. If they’ve got any kind of Hispanic blood, they know what prejudice is.”

And I think that quote sums up my excitement and fears precisely.  It’s not just about being an outsider–if it was, any theater person could play that role, because that’s why people get into theater in the first place.  It’s important that Maria be Latina because, well, for a bunch of reason, but (a) because Latinidad is a big part of what the show is about, and (b) we’ve got the actresses who should be working in a show like this.  I applaud Laurents and everyone involved for what they’re setting out to do.  I’m just a little uneasy with some of the verbiage, let’s say.

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