“West Side Story” will reach the 60th anniversary of its Broadway opening on Sept. 26, 2017. And musical theater fans are binging on events that celebrate a musical that profoundly influenced Broadway dance.
Dance insiders were recently treated to a preview of “West Side” mania at the Chita Rivera Awards on Sept. 11, where Rivera herself, the original Anita on Broadway, was honored. Dancers from New York City Ballet performed the “America” number from the condensed “West Side Story” that choreographer and director Jerome Robbins created in 1995.
A few days later, New York Public Library for the Performing Arts hosted “’West Side Story’ Comes Home,” where the theme was real estate: The musical was set in the once-gritty residential area that was razed for Lincoln Center.
Today the neighborhood is expensive, but at the time, said Evan Leslie, the library’s artistic producer, “the corner of 65th and Amsterdam or the intersection of Columbus and Broadway was a place where a lot of different kinds of people could live.”
At the free event, guests played Jets’ slang spelling games, sang the Broadway melodies and saw archived photographs, notes and stage directions. Three members of the original cast attended: Liane Plane, a Shark girl; Marilyn D’Honau, a Jet girl; and Sylvia Drulie, a production assistant.
How to catch “West Side Story” events coming up:
Feinstein’s/54 Below’s “’West Side Story’ 60th Anniversary Celebration” – September 26
Feinsten’s/54 Below, the Broadway-centric nightclub at 254 W. 54th St., will be singing the favorite tunes with singers such including Ashley Marie, who played Maria at Musical Theatre West and Riverside Repertory Theater in Calif. Also on the stage will be Harvey Evans, who played the character Mouthpiece in the 1961 film. The evening is produced and hosted by journalist and theater historian Michael Portantiere.
Dancers Over 40’s “Cool! The 60th Anniversary and Reunion Event” – September 27
Ever wanted to hear Chita Rivera talk about what it was like to play Anita on stage? Dancers Over 40, organization of seasoned dancers, is hosting reunion of the original cast at St. Luke’s Theater on W. 46th St.
“The history of these people is what’s important to us, and that’s our mission—to promote the history, legacy and lives of all of our members,” said president John Sefakis. “We need to pay it forward because we need to involve the younger kids. They need to learn from this.”
Hosted by Matt Rodin, creator/host of the “Red Carpet Challenge,” the evening will feature a panel with 11 of the musical’s performers, including Rivera, plus Carol Lawrence, who played Maria, and George Marcy, who played Pepe and Bernardo.
There they will discuss the making of the show, what it was like to work with Bernstein, Robbins and Peter Gennaro, who choreographed all of the ethnic dancers in the piece but did not receive credit for his work.
Video footage of the panel will later be posted on Dancersover40.org.
Director-choreographer Jerome Robbins and composer Leonard Bernstein were both born in 1918, which makes next year a double centennial that will be honored by many events. A December exhibit at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts that related to Bernstein will include “West Side Story” memorabilia.
The Los Angeles Philharmonic will celebrate Bernstein’s music with a live performance of the full film soundtrack set to a projection of the movie on November 24 and 26.
NPR also released a three-part radio documentary celebrating the 50th anniversary of the stage-production released in 2007, which is available on their site.