In 1957, “West Side Story” slammed into Broadway. Its sex, hate, blood, death and passion is back. Now rejuiced, rejazzed-up, reopened at the Broadway Theatre, we’re talking Vin Diesel on steroids.
The original production ran 732 performances. Its Grammy-winning cast album’s one of the world’s most successful ever. Its 1961 film grabbed 10 Oscars. Its first Maria — Carol Lawrence, now 87 — is actually a Maria. Her real name’s Carolina Maria Laraia. The Laraia got rejuiced to Lawrence. And this week she received the audience’s standing ovation plus flowers from the cast backstage. The current Maria, Shereen Pimentel, is only 21 years old. And her Tony, Isaac Powell, is 25.
Chita Rivera, the original Anita, sent the cast this card: “You’ll kick it. You’re a moment in history.”
Back then gang violence, police brutality and racism weren’t Broadway’s usual menu. Composer Leonard Bernstein wrote his wife during its out-of-town tryout: “Too good to be true. The book, the tragedy, the ballets work . . . Our experiments seem to have worked.”
Forget nice singing and dancing. In today’s world, applauding turf wars, world wars, race wars — plus killing, fighting and bloodletting as entertainment — is not my cup. Better a Doris Day-Rock Hudson rerun.
But: Like we accepted Orville and his brother’s flying machine, or that guy who came up with the telephone, its controversial creativity need be celebrated. Unfolding on this stage is a one-of-a-kind for Broadway.
As 1,760 first-nighters arrived, co-producer Scott Rudin huddled alone, against a wall, off to a side. “Getting this on took me three years,” he said.
Lawrence has memories. Like: “Director Jerry Robbins was brutal. You had to get in the trenches. I went through the war with him.” As did others. By opening night, none of the collaborators were speaking to him.
Robbins’ original idea was a contemporary love story. A Lower East Side Catholics versus Jews conflict. Everyone said: Gang violence, dead bodies onstage, dingy depressing slum scenery — too tough an idea. It got shelved five years.
Getting it on developed an alphabet soup of names into their own wars. Oscar Hammerstein, Arthur Laurents, Cheryl Crawford, Hal Prince, George Abbott. Bernstein demanded it be an opera and fought with Stephen Sondheim. One orchestra contract stipulated Bernstein never be allowed to conduct the production.
This new opening brought the new generation. Liev Schreiber piloted two pre-teens Sasha and Kai, who said: “Oh, we know what this is. It’s ‘Romeo and Juliet.’ ”
As the 1,760 theatergoers filed out, I saw Rudin again. Alone again. Running in the street to find his car.
Royal visit for Lady Di musical
The New York Palace hotel’s Champagne Suite. Town & Country’s Stellene Volandes partied Broadway’s musical “Diana,” which opens next month. And schlepped in real royalty. Columbus Taylor, grandson of Prince Edward, the Duke of Kent. I mean, have respect.
Long live the versatile queen
Speaking of the highest type people, let’s hear it for Elizabeth the Queen of England, Scotland and whatever’s left of the kingdom. Her Majesty is aces. Not only a king maker but a princebreaker. A royal screwing — or at least yet another type of one for Me-Me-Meghan. Evaporating their title might even be termed a royal flush.
My friend Dr. Bob Lahita, whose classy enclave has a good post office, sent me a Christmas card. To where my monthly maintenance checks have been received and cashed for 22 years. Two months later, Feb. 19, it was returned to him stamped: “Addressee unknown.”
Only in New York, kids, only in New York.
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