Thursday, December 17, 2015

1957 “West Side Story” on Broadway

When I read that Rita Moreno, the amazing actor, dancer and singer, was the recipient of the Kennedy Center Honors, an award that is given to artists whose work had had a major impact on American culture, it brought back a once in a lifetime remembrance. Rita was not directly part of that memory but she played the role of the feisty Anita in the 1961 movie version of “West Side Story” and that was all it took to take me back to 1957 and the original Broadway production.

I was working at WABC radio in NY City then and we would often be given tickets to new Broadway shows. That's how I was lucky enough to attend the opening of “West Side Story”. It was an experience I will never forget. Not only was it written by Leonard Bernstein, (the most famous conductor in the world at the time and leader of the New York Philharmonic), but he was there in person conducting the first showing of his production. The actors were mostly unknowns ...Chita Rivera, Carol Lawrence, and Larry Kent, and this show launched their careers. 

I enjoyed everything about “West Side Story” but it's the role of Anita, as played by Chita Rivera, that most captivated me. Especially when she and Rosalio sing out their opposing memories of the land they left behind: (Rosalio: “Puerto Rico, You lovely island . . . Island of tropical breezes. Always the pineapples growing, And the coffee blossoms blowing” ) and Anita's skeptical answer: (“Puerto Rico . . . You ugly island . . . Island of tropic diseases. Always the hurricanes blowing, Always the population growing . . . And the money owing, And the babies crying, And the bullets flying...”)
It was magnificent !
Of course there is nothing to compare to seeing the show on Broadway but this is one movie that comes close and Rita Moreno is a superb Anita. It's timeless and if you've never seen it I can guarantee that you are in for a treat.


Blogger Marie Smith said...

It must have been wonderful for you as a young woman living in New York. It is such a great city with everything the world has to offer available to you. I loved that movie and I agree, Rita was fabulous in it. However the Broadway play must have been incredible.

5:39 PM  
Blogger possum said...

Once again, Lucky YOU!
West Side Story had a couple of my all time favorites... Tonight and Maria, beautiful, beautiful music.

3:09 AM  
Blogger Anvilcloud said...

I don't think I've ever seen the movie -- parts of it probably.

6:59 AM  
Blogger NCmountainwoman said...

I have seen recent interviews with Rita Morena. What a lady!

4:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I managed to get to Broadway several times, but never to see WSS. I imagine those musicals of the fifties were grand. Lucky you and thanks for sharing your memory.

8:51 AM  
Blogger troutbirder said...

Wow! My senior class trip in 1959 was to New York from St. Paul. While most of my class went to Coney Island I got to see a very young "Captain Kirk of the Starship Enterprise" in The World of Suzie Wong." My date was very impressed perhaps it was the dollar it cost for a very small glass of orange juice at intermission...:)

2:40 PM  
Blogger Syd said...

I saw it many years ago. Never been to a Broadway show. But have seen some live shows in DC.

7:48 AM  

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