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Hilary Scott
Maestro David Newman leads the Boston Symphony Orchestra in 'West Side Story' alongside the feature film July 28 at Tanglewood.

REVIEW: ‘West Side Story’ at Tanglewood showcases spectacular union of music and dance

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By Monday, Jul 30, 2018 Arts & Entertainment

Lenox — Thousands in a sold-out Shed and on the packed lawn enthusiastically experienced the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s splendid performance of the complete musical score accompanying a new, beautifully restored print of “West Side Story” Saturday night at Tanglewood. There was no conductor better suited to lead the BSO for the occasion than David Newman, who has scored more than 110 films, worked with the finest orchestras worldwide, and, twice before, conducted screenings of the 1961 Academy Award-winning film.

The event made evident that great musicals have great music and great dance. Newman and the BSO didn’t miss a beat in the dance, in song or in dialogue with Leonard Bernstein’s glorious score. An American treasure, the film memorializes forever the spectacular, groundbreaking choreography of Jerome Robbins. The union of music and dance is amazing, particularly in the ballets (yes, we can call them that) of the Jets and the Sharks. The film earned its Best Editing Oscar (of 10, including Best Picture) just for the choreographed rumble, where violence and athleticism have seldom been more viscerally combined.

Here are some random observations. First, Natalie Wood as Maria looks SO young, SO virginal. Second, for those of us of a “certain age,” the story reminds how much the country has changed. In “West Side Story,” Puerto Ricans were so marginalized, they saw themselves as immigrants even though they have always been U.S. citizens. Third, the use of the gun — and a simple handgun, at that — is a shocking, extreme act. No more need be said.

Maestro David Newman leads the Boston Symphony Orchestra in ‘West Side Story’ alongside the feature film July 28 at Tanglewood. Photo: Hilary Scott

Impressive is how creatively Arthur Laurents’ book, adapted for the screen by Ernest Lehman, hews to Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet,” particularly in the second act. (The movie has an intermission. Remember those?) Stephen Sondheim, who was 25 when he penned the lyrics, was way ahead of his time. Just listen to the lyrics of  “Gee, Officer Krupke,” where the Jets blame their delinquency on families of drug addicts, drunks  and what we used  to call sexual deviants (and it’s played for comedic relief) and concludes “Officer Krupke … krup you!” Brilliant — just brilliant.

But getting back to Bernstein, the centenary of whose birth was the raison d’être for the performance. What was most revelatory was the film’s intricate underscoring and the interstitial orchestrations, which I’d never heard before even though they’d always been there.

As ravishing, although more subdued, as the overture was the underscore for the end credits (ingeniously designed by the great graphic artist Saul Bass), which were most always cut from television broadcasts. In their usual ill-mannered custom (rude, really), some Tanglewood patrons started for the parking lots early when the film’s end credits began, despite a polite request in the program to remain seated until the performance was fully completed. Most gratifying for the majority who remained was the spontaneous roar from the crowd when the names of Leonard Bernstein, Jerome Robbins and Stephen Sondheim appeared in the end credits. What a legacy these creative geniuses have produced. It makes one proud to be an American.

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