Some people may think me an artistic luddite, but I have a major beef with the Broadway-bound revival of "West Side Story". The new staging is directed by librettist Arthur Laurents. It's more authentic in that the Puerto Ricans are played by Latinos and the dialogue and songs between the Puerto Ricans are spoken and sung in Spanish, excepting one.
America! is sung in English and the dialogue leading up to it is spoken in English. But very abruptly at the beginning of Act II, all inter-Puerto Rican dialogue and song is in Spanish. Where's the authenticity of that? If you're going to sing America! in English because everyone knows it and might reject the play flat-out without it, why not Siento Hermosa which people also know (more from being parodied by men since the first staging)?
There's also my concern with the "authenticity" of its being in Spanish. Sure, first-generation immigrants speak their native tongue. But why not see "Fiddler on the Roof" done in Yiddish? Or "Evita" in Spanish? Or "The Lion King" in Swahili? Or "Aida" in Arabic? Or "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum" in Latin? Or "Zorba the Greek" in Greek? Or, more recently, Valkyrie (the Tom Cruise movie) in German? If you want to be authentic, let's really be authentic. To hell with whether the audience can understand it or not.
Which leads me to another rub. There are no subtitles in the new staging. When you go to opera, there are subtitles on a scrim. Mr. Laurents thought that subtitles would distract from the play. Did he stop to think that, in our multilingual society, there are people who speak languages other than Spanish who, yes while being able to get the gist of the scene from the acting itself, don't understand the impact of the powerful words written by Laurents in the first place? Not all theatre-goers are middle-age and older folks who know the story well enough to get by on memory. Try introducing the new staging to teenagers who speak Russian, German, and French rather than Spanish. The confrontational scene between Maria and Anita is completely lost on them.
Perhaps I'm being a whiny WASP for whom for years the theatrical universe centered around. Are we now feeling the white-man's burden in all things entertainment? If this is the wave of the future, perhaps my entertainment dollars are better spent in venues that don't feel the need to change the libretto just to appease the fastest growing demographic, most of whom probably won't darken the door of the theatre it lands in.
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