Thursday, September 27, 2007

West Side Story

Before Lou Dobbs and company got on their anti-Latino illegal alien campaign, way back in the late fifties early sixties, White America was anti-Latino. In New York the racism was towards their colonial subjects from Puerto Rico who took advantage of America's need for war workers and then with the advent of post-war air travel to move to New York. As exemplified in the song America from West Side Story.

Latinos in LA faced the same conditions of racism where assaults on the Mexican community occurred during WWII making headlines nation wide as the Zoot Suit riots.

The racism and oppression Latino Americans faced gave Leonard Bernstein his idea for a rewrite of Romeo and Juliet, and it was a young Stephen Sondheim who penned these caustic lyrics. As America tries to close its borders the song America and West Side Story itself are still relevant after fifty years.

West Side Story Turns 50
The Show Took Broadway By Storm And Changed The Broadway Musical Forever
American musical theater celebrates a major anniversary in 2007. Fifty years ago this month - on September 26, 1957 - "West Side Story" opened on Broadway. Based on William Shakespeare's famous tragedy "Romeo and Juliet," "West Side Story" introduced a dramatically new approach to the music, dance motifs, and storytelling of a stage musical.

The idea of West Side Story began with the man who was to become its director/choreographer, Jerome Robbins. He imagined a contemporary retelling of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet on the back streets of New York City. It was originally the East Side, surprisingly enough, the conflict being Catholic/Jewish. Robbins's collaborator on several previous projects, composer Leonard Bernstein, persuaded him that it would work better if depicted on the West Side, with white New Yorkers vs. immigrant Puerto Ricans.

The musicals staged in New York could be politically liberal before movies
generally tried to be. Hence the satiric power of a song like “America,” which counterpointed immigrant pride and immigrant disenchantment. Audiences in September 1957 heard “America” sung as inadvertent backbeat to Little Rock’s white mobs, who were attacking black children daring to desegregate Central High School. Such was the momentum of the civil rights revolution that, by 1961, the Oscar-winning film version had enough moral freedom to add that “life is all right in America” — but only “if you’re all white in America.” It was also easier to find “a terrace apartment” if you could “get rid of your accent.” In 1957, in an atmosphere of complacency in national politics, the “America” depicted in “West Side Story” was scarred by prejudice and violence, which this musical condemned with a raw energy that was irrepressible. Fifty years ago this month, a genre that was so often dismissed as escapist entertainment finally grew up.
And lets not forget the classic progressive rock version of America which launched Keith Emerson's career.

"America," by the Nice. Keith Emerson's '60s organ-playing sounds like an acid flashback. Is that a good thing? The Nice make you think so. It's listed on iTunes as "America (2nd Amendment)."

West Side Story - America

Puerto Rico,
You lovely island . . .
Island of tropical breezes.
Always the pineapples growing,
Always the coffee blossoms blowing . . .

Puerto Rico . . .
You ugly island . . .
Island of tropic diseases.
Always the hurricanes blowing,
Always the population growing . . .
And the money owing,
And the babies crying,
And the bullets flying.
I like the island Manhattan.
Smoke on your pipe and put that in!

I like to be in America!
O.K. by me in America!
Ev'rything free in America
For a small fee in America!

I like the city of San Juan.

I know a boat you can get on.

Hundreds of flowers in full bloom.

Hundreds of people in each room!

Automobile in America,
Chromium steel in America,
Wire-spoke wheel in America,
Very big deal in America!

I'll drive a Buick through San Juan.

If there's a road you can drive on.

I'll give my cousins a free ride.

How you get all of them inside?

Immigrant goes to America,
Many hellos in America;
Nobody knows in America
Puerto Rico's in America!

I'll bring a T.V. to San Juan.

If there a current to turn on!

I'll give them new washing machine.

What have they got there to keep clean?

I like the shores of America!
Comfort is yours in America!
Knobs on the doors in America,
Wall-to-wall floors in America!

When I will go back to San Juan.

When you will shut up and get gone?

Everyone there will give big cheer!

Everyone there will have moved here!

Music by Leonard Bernstein, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim.
© 1956, 1957 Amberson Holdings LLC and Stephen Sondheim. Copyright renewed.
Leonard Bernstein Music Publishing Company LLC, Publisher.


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