The seasons–the years. the new–the old

Oh, my, all of my friends have created quite a sensory-stirring compilation of autumn thoughts: Kira, ready for the heartier tastes of soups (and curling up with a book); Sheila enjoying pumpkin scent, pumpkin everything; Martha cozying up with corduroys and Frank; and Jane hearing the autumnal release of the bow on the violin strings. Before long we will all be witnessing the vibrancy of the fall pallet, which the previous seasons have meteorologically prepared for us. I agree that there is something renewing and stimulating in the air in fall.
Perhaps this explains why this weekend I was so affected by a show, another old delight made new again. Maybe the season sets us up to be so much more appreciative and nostalgic. Or perhaps I would have loved it even during the icyest days of February or the sweatiest days of July because this is a show for all seasons.
The show, “West Side Story”, has been around since 1957, which must put it in the “Old Chestnut” category, but the “Romeo and Juliet” story that it is based upon has brought tears to the eyes of audiences since the 17th century. The ‘thees’ and ‘thous’ and ‘good morrows’ of the chronological first one, and the ‘daddy-os’ and ‘cools’ of the second do date them both and can make them inaccesible to contemporary audiences unless they are prepared for period pieces.
So what made this something so sensually special?
The star of the show was the Philadelphia Orchestra. They played the score behind a redigitalized version of the 1961 film, starring Natalie Wood, Richard Beymer, Russ Tamblyn, Rita Moreno, and George Chakiris.
It is too simplistic to explain that the original sound track was split between orchestral and vocal and the former was deleted so that the live orchestra could accompany the lyrics, dialogue, and effects. The original orchestrations had been lost, and so it took much research among the archives of the original conductor/music supervisor, the director, and the producer to fashion a mock-up score and adaptation for live orchestra. That’s like rewriting Bernstein without missing a note or a dynamic. Even us non-techies have an appreciation for that.
I have heard the original score hundreds of times, and I’ve even played some of it. I saw the show on Broadway in 1960 and the movie in 1962. Let’s just say I know the music and have some fond connections to it. But to hear it played live by a great orchestra simply brought me chills. Adjectives fail. It added sparkle, poignancy, accent, and depth to the film. Natalie was sweeter, more beautiful, and more engaging. Rita was more of a spit fire, more enticing. George was more romantic, more exciting. And Russ was just more on point of his wonderful dance shoes. It wasn’t just the old story that brought tears. And it wasn’t just the new technical feat that brought applause. It was a totally beautiful experience.
“West Side Story” has a moral, and 50 years later we should be a better society because Leonard Bernstein, Arthur Laurents, Jerome Robbins, and Steven Sondheim collaborated to teach us about the ugliness and fatality of hatred and resulting violence. As we left the theatre, I had to acknowledge to my granddaughter and daughter that unfortunately we’re slow learners.

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