Tag: west side story

Stephen Sondheim: America’s Greatest Living Writer

There are many virtuoso musical writers and performers in the United States. The most successful and long-standing artists are the ones that have the ability to adapt and possess well-established careers that have been able to cross over and interconnect people throughout many decades and generations. One of those artists happens to be one of the most prominent lyricists and musicians in theatre: Stephen Sondheim.

He will be turning ninety-one this month, on March 22nd to be exact. Some of the most beloved musicals that he has written and composed would be Into the Woods, West Side Story, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, and Gypsy. Over his sixty-six year-long career he has won eight Tonys, six Grammys, an Oscar, and a Pulitzer Prize.

Though most of his musicals have not been considered megahits on Broadway such as Phantom of the Opera, it is because of what Sondheim focuses on in his musicals. While Broadway thrives on larger-than-life plots and music, Sondheim finds the beauty of the world through the authentic complexity of human emotions that fall into liminal space or into the darkness itself. He states in his second volume of collected lyrics, “There is a tonic in the things men do not wish to hear, it’s been said. But not much money.”

 

 

Unlike most starving artists who are discovered while in obscurity, Sondheim started his career in the mid to late 1950s creating the megahits West Side Story and Gypsy. Before he reached the age of thirty, he had already done more than what most writers have done in a lifetime. But these musicals do not represent who Sondheim is at his core. Through collaboration with directors Hal Prince and James Lapine, then a decade of hits and misses, he created the musical ‘Company,’ which started another quarter-century of success for Sondheim with musicals varying from topics of middle-aged showgirls in Follies and the American opening of Japan in Pacific Overtures.

What makes Sondheim’s musicals come together though is that each of them is essentially a piece of literature that has a musical score. He based Company off of a novel and essay that were written in the late 1960s, when he wrote the musical, and spoke of the sexual revolution occurring during this time period in the United States which is reflected in the musical through vignettes of each of the characters and how they handle the culture shock.

 

Image via Time Out

Company won a Tony for Best Musical in 1971 but left many people confused. New York Times critic Walter Kerr left the production feeling ‘cool and queasy.’ Sondheim reflects on the fact that the adjective cold is frequently used by critics of his musicals stating that, ‘It all began with Company.’

 

Sondheim’s musicals were being compared to brass comedies like Hello Dolly and The Sound of Music. But the biggest difference between them is how the music portrays emotions. Most Broadway musical characters know how they are feeling, what they want, and show that through music. In Sondheim’s musical Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, Todd shows his contempt towards people and society through the song ‘No Place like London.’ But Todd is not unlike other characters of Sondheim’s. Sondheim uses music in all of his works to illustrate a self-conscious, reflective, unknowing mindset that is more in line with how people actually process their emotions, wants, and state of being. We do not know until after the fact. An example of this can be seen in the song ‘Send in the Clowns’ from the musical A Little Night Music where the character believes that she is a fool after proposing to her lover who rejects her for a younger woman. It tells the audience of the self-contempt that the character possesses for herself without telling the audience.

 

Image via Playbill

It sounds like none of Sondheim’s characters get what they want, but in his musical Into the Woods they do. Act 1 shows the fairytale aspect of each character; Cinderella gets the prince, Jack climbs the beanstalk. But then in Act 2, just like people, when they do get what they want they begin to want something else. So the cycle repeats itself, resulting in the fact that there is no such thing as a happily ever after in reality. The only thing we can learn to accept is peace in the past and the future. Sondheim is a realist in an industry that relies on vice versa. Seeing the brutally honest humanity that Sondheim portrays in his musicals is the reason why his works are still standing.

 

 

Featured Image via NPR

First Look at the Cast of Steven Spielberg’s ‘West Side Story’ Remake

Steven Spielberg’s remake of West Side Story has gone into production. Featuring a cast of newcomers alongside established actors, it follows rival gangs, The Jets and The Sharks, who butt heads when the sister of The Sharks’ leader, Maria, falls in love with the friend of The Jets’ leader, Tony.

 

 

20th Century Fox released the first official cast photo. Tony (Ansel Elgort) and Maria (Rachel Zegler) are in the middle, with the Jets on the left and The Sharks on the right.

 

Image Via Deadline

 

The critically acclaimed Broadway musical was originally adapted into the 1961 film, starring Natalie Wood as Maria and Richard Beymer as Tony. The film was critically acclaimed and was nominated for 11 Academy Awards. Though lauded, the film has received criticism over the years for the casting of a white woman (Wood) to play a Spanish woman, controversy that Spielberg and company intentionally avoided with this remake.

Disney will release the remake of the film on December 18, 2020.

 

 

Featured Image Via Leonard Bernstein

Steven Spielberg’s Anticipated ‘West Side Story’ Remake Has Found Its Maria

A fresh new face will be playing a classic role in Steven Spielberg’s remake of the 1961 musical West Side Story.

Image Via Variety

 

The role of Maria, the titular love interest of the story, will be played by newcomer Rachel Zegler in her first film role. Zegler was one of 30,000 Latina actresses to audition for the role of Maria.

 

Zegler has stated that she is honored to play the role of Maria in a film, having previously portrayed her in a school play.

 

West Side Story was the first musical I encountered with a Latina lead character. As a Colombian-American, I am humbled by the opportunity to play a role that means so much to the Hispanic community.”

 

The news comes as the other film’s stars have also been announced. Tony, Maria’s love interest, will be portrayed by Ansel Elgort, the star of Baby Driver. The roles of Bernardo, Maria’s brother, and Anita, Bernardo’s girlfriend, will be portrayed by Broadway veterans Ariana DeBose and David Alvarez, respectively. Hamilton performer Josh Andres Rivera has been case as Chino, Maria’s would-be suitor. Rita Moreno, one of the film’s original stars who won an Oscar for her performance as Anita, will return in a new role and also serve as executive producer.

 

 

arian debose david alvarez josh andres rivera rachel zegler

Image Via Deadline

 

The casting of mostly Latino and Latina actors was important for Spielberg and screenwriter Tony Kushner. The original film has been accused on whitewashing over the years since its release. Most notably the casting of Natalie Wood, a white actress, in the role of Maria. Spielberg said that he is proud of the diverse group of actors who were cast in the film.

 

“When we began this process a year ago, we announced that we would cast the roles of Maria, Anita, Bernardo, Chino and the Sharks with Latina and Latino actors. I’m so happy that we’ve assembled a cast that reflects the astonishing depth of talent in America’s multifaceted Hispanic community.”

 

 

The film is set to start filming this summer.

 

 

Featured Image Via ComingSoon.net