The racism in ‘West Side Story’

Picture by Jason Kuffer on Flickr

Picture by Jason Kuffer on Flickr

Romeo & Juliet’ was written in the XVI century, but the story stills very popular today. People love the characters because they love each other with so much passion and purity that everybody can understand the importance of love against hate and death.

If you read the book and you watch ‘West Side Story’ later you can realise that they are similar, that most of the scenes really look the same. But is it possible that in the musical the racism subject is emphasised. The story in ‘West Side story’ was changed to describe the American society, when many people from Mexico and Puerto Rico landed in the United States and there were lots of bands in slums.

The difference between American and the people from Puerto Rico gives the story a new point of view, something really dramatic, more than two aristocratic families from Verona. The readers from the book see that the two families hate each other but they don’t understand why. In the case of the musical, people get it easily because racism is something still happening today.

So, ‘West Side Story’ is more than an adaptation of ‘Romeo & Juliet’, is a new story on its own that makes the audience think about their reality and with lots of interesting subjects that Shakespeare wrote.

What do you enjoy the most of ‘West Side Story’?

Cesar

From ‘Romeo & Juliet’ to ‘West Side Story’

Picture by Randy Lemoine on Flickr

Picture by Randy Lemoine on Flickr

Romeo & Juliet’ is one of the most popular plays from Shakespeare. It’s been used and adapted in different ways. It has inspired many composers such as Bellini, Berlioz , Tchaikovski and of course the Broadway musical ‘West Side Story’.

In 1940, the choreograph Jerome Robbins proposed Leonard Bernstein to make a new adaptation of ‘Romeo & Juliet’. They decided to write a story about a Jewish boy that falls in love with a catholic Italian girl. It was supposed to be called ‘East Side Story’, but during the 50’s, there are lots of changes in the American population, so they decided to change everything.

Arthur Laurents was the writer, Leonard Bernstein the composer of the songs, with lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. The first performance on Broadway was in 1957 and everybody loved it. That’s why there was a film adaptation a few years later directed by Robert Wise and choreography by Jerome Robbins. Most of the actors weren’t famous until then, just Natalie Wood, and they didn’t know how to sing. Some professional singers performed the songs.

This month we will discover the relationship between ‘West Side Story’, one of the most important musicals on Broadway, and ‘Romeo & Juliet’, the Shakespeare’s play that has inspired everybody since it was written.

Cesar

‘You Can’t Stop The Beat’

From Youtube

From Youtube

The end is very important for a musical, because makes you realise if you really liked it or not. I think that in ‘Hairspray’ is great, even knowing that the story is going to finish fine, the last song is an explosion of colour, choreography and catchy rhythm that makes it perfect.

In ‘You Can’t Stop The Beat’ is like every character summarises their story, showing what they learned and how they changed since the beginning, so all of them dance happy and together.

I understand that for many people the song may be too repetitive, but I also think that it’s distended, enjoyable and makes you feel in a good mood. The song is very positive and kind, is absolutely one of my favourite from the musical.

My favourite part is, of course, Edna. She sings about how she changed, accepting herself for the way she looks like and wishing to be accepted for the rest of the people. It’s an important message that we should learn.

What’s your favourite part of the song?

Cesar

The poster of ‘Hairspray’

Picture by Thomas Hawk on Flickr

Picture by Thomas Hawk on Flickr

I love the poster of ‘Hairspray’. I think that it’s very visual, because you see Tracy’s face, but you attention goes basically to her hair. It looks like it’s going to be a silly comedy, but then you realise how deep is the story and you love Tracy, so the poster is perfect for it.

Picture by Andy Roberts on Flickr

Picture by Andy Roberts on Flickr

I love the parodies that the musical ‘Evil Dead’ made about some other shows, including ‘Les Misérables’ or ‘Mamma Mia’, but my favourite is ‘Hairspray’ because Tracy looks like a horrible zombie.

Picture by Jamie on Flickr

Picture by Jamie on Flickr

In the case of the movie, the poster is good too, but to be honest I prefer the stage one. Here, all the main characters appear in a colourful background. Is great too, but I like the original one more.

Picture by Maureen Lee on Flickr

Picture by Maureen Lee on Flickr

What’s your favourite?

Cesar

The Corny Collins Show

From Youtube

From Youtube

Tracy is a big fan of the Corny Collins Show. It’s a TV program where she can see the people from Baltimore dancing and singing. Her dream is to become a dancer on the show. Once a month they make the ‘Negro Day’, where some black people dance. She is a big fan of that day and wants to dance with them too; she doesn’t care about the colour of their skin, she just enjoys their music and the way they move and that’s all. Tracy gets inspired and involved in the antiracism movement once she meets Seaweed and his family, and part of the team of the ‘Negro Day’ in the show.

Something very similar happens in the musical ‘Memphis’. As I’ve said many times before, they have lots of things in common. Huey Calhoun loves to listen to music made by black people and he starts to work in a radio just because he wants the rest of the people know about it. He gets really inspired and fights for change Memphis once he meets and starts a relationship with Felicia Farrell.

The Corny Collins Show is a place where lots of young people meet to enjoy music and dance. It’s inspired in a real TV show, called Buddy Deane Show, aired in Baltimore from 1957 to 1964. It was taken off from TV because it was unable to integrate black and white people, not like ‘Hairspray’.

From Youtube

From Youtube

At the beginning, the Corny Collins Show is a perfect place, a dream for Tracy, but then becomes more clear that isn’t that perfect, that it’s full of mistakes, inequality and too much egocentrism and desire of prominence. Instead of conform, she decides to change it with the help of her new friends, without knowing that her fight involves the whole American society.

Tracy is really inspired by the Corny Collins Show, she gets self-absorbed watching the TV. It reminds me when I watch a musical, like the whole world disappears. What inspires you the most like her?

Cesar

‘You’re Timeless To Me’

From Youtube

From Youtube

‘I can’t stop eating,

You’re hairline’s receding,

And soon there’ll be nothing at all,

So you’ll wear a wig,

While I roast a pig, hey,

Pass the Geritol!’

I don’t usually like this kind of duets, but this one is very special to me, I find it very beautiful. Edna and Wilbur have an argue for a misunderstanding, but they get over it because they love each other so much. They accept the way they are, loving every single particularity. That’s something that most of the people are willing to reach.

So, it’s not only a romantic song, it’s also a lesson of how the people should love their partners, without conditions and respect, with a bit of fun and making the difference something attractive too. I find it very inspiring and beautiful. It reminds me my relationship with my partner. Both are very different physically and with different personality, but we are fine with it and we love each other, enjoying every moment we are together. I’m lucky for that.

Do you also feel ‘(You Are) Timeless To Me’ related to your life?

Cesar

Hey mama, welcome to the 60’s

From Youtube

From Youtube

Edna Turnblad is, by far, my favourite character from ‘Hairspray’. She is Tracy’s mother and she really cares of her. At the beginning she is overprotective, she doesn’t want her daughter to appear on the Corny Collins Show because she thinks that the people won’t accept her because of her weight, but then she realises that she is wrong, that Tracy is brave, so she supports her and learns to be braver too.

On Broadway, the role was originated by Harvey Fierstein. He is an American actor that won the Tony Award for the Best Actor in a Musical for playing Edna. If you listen to the soundtrack of the show, you realise that he has a particular voice and makes Edna a funny character, with lot of heart too, but a bit more like a caricature. Of course that’s my interpretation according to the soundtrack, maybe he was different live.

In the case of the movie adaptation, John Travolta was Edna. He was nominated at the Golden Globe Awards but he didn’t win, Javier Bardem did for his extraordinary performance in ‘No Country For Old Men’. Travolta makes a really kind character, a mother that really looks after her daughter. Her voice is soft; she looks a bit shy but gets more confident lately.

My favourite scene from ‘Hairspray’ is ‘Welcome to the 60’s’, with Edna celebrating life. She finally leaves home and discovers a whole new world with her daughter. She gets beautiful with a bit of make up and a new dress that makes her see the world in a better way, enjoying the fun of it. This song is colourful, optimistic, motivating and catchy.

Tony Maudsley as Edna Turnblad in the 2016 UK Tour of 'Hairspray'. From the official webpage of 'Hairspray' on Tour in 2016.

Tony Maudsley as Edna Turnblad in the 2016 UK Tour of ‘Hairspray’. From the official webpage of ‘Hairspray’ on Tour in 2016.

What do you think about ‘Welcome to the 60’s’, do you like it?

Cesar