It was with great excitement that I read the news that West Side Story is going to be revived. It will be a version for the 21st century, with much of the script being rewritten into Spanish and greater attention to authenticity in casting. Lest we worry that something would be lost in translation, the play is in good hands: it will be directed by Arthur Laurents, the author of the play’s book. The genesis of this version lies in a very interesting story reported in the New York Times:

Mr. Laurents, who turned 91 on Monday, traced the origin of the new revival to his companion of 52 years, Tom Hatcher, who died in 2006.

 

Mr. Hatcher was a fluent Spanish speaker, and on a visit to Bogotá, Colombia, saw a staging of “West Side Story” in Spanish.

 

In that version, Mr. Hatcher reported back to Mr. Laurents, the language had transformed the show: the Sharks were the heroes and the Jets were the villains.

 

That sparked the idea of incorporating Spanish into a modern revival. “I thought it would be terrific if we could equalize the two gangs somehow,” Mr. Laurents said. “But I had a lot of trouble because I was depending on Tom, who is fluent. And then he died.”

 Thanks to the persistence of the producers of In the Heights (which lends some street cred to dealing with the New York latino experience in musical form), West Side Story  is currently in casting and is to debut for a four week run in December at the National Theater right here in Washington, DC. The link to the full NYT article is here. (Bonus: a link from the NYT article to Brooks Atkinson’s original review of the play, which proclaimed it “an incandescent piece of work that finds odd bits of beauty amid the rubbish of the streets.”)

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Also of note, Bill T. Jones is bringing the music and life of Fela Kuti (the Nigerian musical superstar and political leader) to the stage in the off Broadway production of Fela! The New Musical.

This promotional video provides some insight into how the musical came about:

There are plenty more videos at http://www.felaoffbraodway.com/. I enjoyed watching all the different rehearsal videos, particularly having been so recently involved in the production of a musical myself. Hopefully I will get a chance during my busy summer or fall to make it up to NYC to check this one out. Fela Kuti seems like a very interesting subject for a musical, allowing the socio-political content to be framed by the music that reflected it.

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