Last night I saw a spectacular production of “West Side Story” at the Guthrie Theater. The wonderful singing and dancing made this the best production I ever have seen in nearly 50 years of seeing plays at this theater. It runs through August 26, 2018. I strongly urge you to go!
As you may recall, the original play–with music by Leonard Bernstein, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and book by Arthur Laurents–is set in 1957 on Manhattan’s West Side. Two rival gangs, the white Jets and the Puerto-Rican Sharks, are prowling the streets. When Tony falls for Maria, the sister of a rival gang member, a rumble is planned. Like Romeo and Juliet they’re caught in an ongoing feud with no escape, even as they pledge their love for each other. It features incomparable songs like “Maria,” “Tonight,” “Cool” and “I Feel Pretty” that are merged with the greatest love story ever told in this larger-than-life musical. (This production reinterprets the clash as between the Puerto Rican Sharks and the Jets as a pluralistic group of contemporary Americans.) Here are two photographs from this production:
The program has an interesting article, “On Reimagining a Classic,” by Joseph Haj, the play’s Director and the Theater’s Artistic Director. He reports that his research for directing this play “uncovered reports from government agencies regarding districts with solidly immigrant populations.” One such report stated the following:
- “The tenants seem to wholly disregard personal cleanliness, and the very principles of decency, their general appearance and actions corresponding with their wretched abodes. This indifference to personal and domiciliary cleanliness is doubtless acquired from a long familiarity with the loathsome surroundings, wholly at variance with all moral and social improvements.”
Haj continues, “But this report wasn’t about New York City’s Puerto Rican population in the 1950s–it was filed in 1864 about a district with a predominantly Irish population. . . .”
This report from 1864 should be a strong warning to those in America today who feel and express great anxiety over today’s immigrants.
 See these posts to dwkcommentaries: White Anxiety and Fearing Immigration (June 25, 2018); More Voices on White Anxiety and Immigration (June 26, 2018). Fear Driving U.S. and European Clamor Over Immigration (July 3, 2018).