USAO Presents “West Side Story” As Part of Bernstein Festival
If America’s best-known composer of the modern era is remembered for anything, it is West Side Story, the musical that forever changed musical theatre. As part of the Bernstein Festival at the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma this month, the USAO music and drama departments will join forces to present West Side Story.
The Feb. 27-28 production is free and open to the public at 7:30 p.m. in the Davis Hall Theatre on the USAO campus.
The production is based on a conception of Jerome Robbins, book by Arthur Laurents, music by Leonard Bernstein and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim.
Katie Davis, assistant professor of drama, is directing and doing original chorography for the production. Dr. Jan Hanson, professor of music, is the musical director. Hanson, with Rhenada Finch, festival coordinator, serve as pianists. Dr. Dan Hanson serves as percussionist.
“Everything is going well so far in the rehearsal process. Everyday I become more excited about the show. This is my first college musical. It is going to be an amazing show,” said Roderick Kohl, a drama major from Midwest City.
The music of Bernstein will be featured for five nights that include two concerts, a showing of the classic movie On The Waterfront, and two nights of West Side Story Feb. 23-28. Each event is scheduled at 7:30 p.m. in different locations on campus.
World-renowned violinist Yuval Waldman will return as director of the festival. Local, national, and campus musicians and singers will join Waldman for Bernstein performances throughout the week.
The production features many well-known songs including Somewhere, Tonight and One Hand, One Heart. West Side Story is considered to be a landmark in the history of the American musical theatre, deviating from traditional musicals with silly songs and happy endings to a more sophisticated dramatic approach.
Bernstein introduced audiences to a realistic portrayal of racial prejudice, gang violence and senseless death. From its premiere to present day, West Side Story still moves audiences with its personal message of tragedy through intolerance.
West Side Story is based on a modern interpretation of William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Both focus on two young people who fall in love, but are kept apart by family and friends. The story takes place in the mid 1950s on the west side of Manhattan and centers around a love story between two teenagers who both have strong ties to enemy gangs.
Robbins originally proposed the idea for the musical to Bernstein in 1949 as a Christian/Jewish romance called East Side Story. In 1955, a meeting with Laurents produced the idea of two teenage gangs on warring factions – one gang of newly-arriving Puerto Ricans and the other self-styled Americans.
Sondheim joined the project as lyricist and, more than one year later, rehearsals began for the Broadway premiere. The stage version opened in August 1957 in Washington, D.C. Following this and another preview engagement in Philadelphia, the production opened on Broadway in September 1957. The film version was released October 1961.
The music is based on big band jazz and Latin-beat music. At the time, the dance, theatrical and music style of the production received strong reactions from critics.
More information about the event is available online at www.TheFiveBs.com. The Festival of Music and Ideas is presented with support from the Kirkpatrick Foundation and the USAO Foundation.
The Bernstein Festival of Music and Ideas at USAO is the fifth event in a series. Also known as “The Five Bs,” the weeklong series of festivals began in fall 2007 as a means to explore the music of five genius composers whose lives cover 350 years of history and whose last names coincidentally begin with the letter “B.” So far these have included Johann Sebastian Bach, Ludwig van Beethoven, Johannes Brahms and Bela Bartok.