Today BroadwayWorld's 2012 Tony Awards Clip Countdown continues by highlighting one of the most innovative and unforgettable musicals ever created - the Leonard Bernstein/Stephen Sondheim/Arthur Laurents/Jerome Robbins masterpiece WEST SIDE STORY.
The songs alone are enough to make it the musical of musicals - "Tonight" to "Cool" to "Maria" to "Something's Coming" to "Somewhere" to "I Feel Pretty" and beyond - but it is the collective combination of all elements - music, movement, drama, comedy, Shakespeare - that make WEST SIDE STORY perhaps the very best of all musicals. While SHOW BOAT and SOUTH PACIFIC are peerless in their own ways and incomparable insofar as their importance in musical theatre history, WEST SIDE STORY signified the apotheosis of an entire era - in this case, the Golden Age of musical theatre - and showcased four of the most talented men ever to work in show business crafting true blue new American art of the highest order before our very eyes, ears and hearts. What Leonard Bernstein's did was to give musical voice to the fire and passion and desperation of teenage rebellion and the tragic romance at the core of the Romeo & Juliet-based tale. Stephen Sondheim's lyrics and the book by Arthur Laurents simultaneously manage to create a made-up, contemporary, colloquial language to match Shakespeare's iambic pentameter and Elizabethanisms pound-for-pound and plosive-for-plosive while all the while evoking achingly poignant elegance from out of sparse poetry. The staging and choreography by Jerome Robbins was so ahead of its time and so striking in its design, style and enacting as to still appear fresh, new and exciting more than fifty years later - as both the 1980 and 2009 Broadway revivals clearly showed by memorably utilizing the original moves throughout. While the original Broadway production of WEST SIDE STORY was not the resounding success many assume it must have been, the 1960 film version won ten Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director for Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins, solidifying the show's place in history. The timeless score fits the classic story like a glove and the other marvels that WEST SIDE STORY is capable of conjuring up depend on the production and the performers, but magic is always resultant - with no exceptions. More than fifty years on, WEST SIDE STORY continues to endure in pop culture, as well, with the recent hit Broadway revival directed by original book writer Arthur Laurents bringing Karen Olivo a Best Featured Actress In A Musical Tony Award, and, as recently as this year, Fox's hit musical dramedy series GLEE took on the show in a number of episodes, with the WEST SIDE STORY itself fully-rendered on the stage of McKinley High as depicted in one of the season's pivotal episodes, "The First Time".
Yes, the allure of WEST SIDE STORY will likely never fade and we can look forward to many more marvelous revivals like the two featured today on future Tony Awards broadcasts - if we have our way.
First up, here is Tony Award-winner Lin-Manuel Miranda introducing the 2009 Broadway revival company of WEST SIDE STORY in a spirited rendition of "Dance At The Gym" at that year's Tony Awards.
Next, here is Karen Olivo tearfully accepting the Tony Award for Best Featured Actress, as introduced by John Stamos.
Go all the way back to 1980 to see the Broadway revival company of WEST SIDE STORY as featured in "America", led by that year's Tony Award-winning Anita, Debbie Allen, below.
For comparison's sake, here is Karen Olivo leading the ladies from the most recent Broadway revival of WEST SIDE STORY in "America" on THE LATE SHOW WITH DAVID LETTERMAN.
As a special bonus, here are the girls and boys of GLEE giving us a spirited "America".
Lastly, here is a spectacular WEST SIDE STORY performance via GLEE's Darren Criss that had its world premiere right here on BroadwayWorld - the thrilling "Something's Coming".
So, what is the most enduring aspect of the rich legacy of WEST SIDE STORY to you? Is it the tragic romance at the heart of the musical? Is it the stirring and spine-tingling score by Bernstein and Sondheim? Is it the classic characters? Is it the way the original foursome of creatives wove together music, song, dialogue, drama, comedy and dance - plus Shakespeare - into a tapestry that still shows no signs of wear and tear, fifty years on? WEST SIDE STORY is one of the best-crafted Broadway musicals of all time and we will be lucky to see it return to the Great White Way many more times in future seasons, near and far, and at future Tony Awards telecasts, as well - with or without Tony himself.