West Side Story Con Un Poco Español

A recreated still from the "Prologue" of West Side Story with Chris Evans as Riff, the leader of the Jets and Rodrigo Santoro as Bernardo the leader of the Sharks.
A recreated still from the "Prologue" of West Side Story with Chris Evans as Riff, the leader of the Jets and Rodrigo Santoro as Bernardo the leader of the Sharks.
Mark Seliger, vanityfair.com

When the legendary Arthur Laurents decided it was time to tinker with the words in the latest revival of West Side Story coming to the Hobby Center on January 12 - it was done with care and several adjustments, according to associate producer David Saint.

Despite all the precautions, it took several tries before they reached the present balance of 88 percent English to 12 percent Spanish, he said.

Laurents' partner, Tom Hatch (now deceased) had seen a performance in Bogota, Colombia and been struck by the fact that the audience was rooting a lot more for the Sharks (Puerto Rican gang) than the Jets (whites.)

"He said it to Arthur, 'Wouldn't it be interesting if you could equalize the playing field a little more?' " Saint said. "It was his idea that when they're alone, they speak Spanish."

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At first there was more Spanish, 20 percent, he said. But they found if there was a big scene done entirely in Spanish, the non-Spanish speakers were losing the plot points. Also, there are certain characters in the show, Anita for instance, who want to be assimilated and insisted on speaking in English.

Translating it all was an enormous task. If they adjusted it for rhyme and rhythm, Spanish speakers commenting on the super titles (they used these for a while as in opera but dropped them as too distracting) said the translations weren't accurate, Saint said. If they went the literal route, clever rhyming--so important to Stephen Sondheim--disappeared.

Lin-Michael Miranda, the award-winning author of In the Heights, was brought in to translate, reworking some of the dialogue and lyrics, Saint said.

Adding the Spanish "gives it a little bit more edge and a little bit more relevance," Saint said. They also cut some of the phrases that were very musical comedy of the 50s. "The aim was to bring into the present. "

Why should anyone come see the show? "Because in essence for me there has never in the last 50 years been the combination of four geniuses of the musical theater all working together," says Saint. "And I think their work is untouchable. You had Jerome Robbins (choreography) and Leonard Bernstein (music) and Stephen Sondheim (lyrics) and Arthur Laurents (script) all working at the top of their game. The only time all four of them worked together."

West Side Story brought to Houston by Gexa Energy/Broadway Across America runs at the Hobby Center January 12-23. For ticket information go to www.broadwayacrossamerica.com or www.thehobbycenter.org/ or call 1-800-982-2787.

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