It could have been little more than a victory lap for a Broadway icon about to turn 90. But after legendary playwright, director and force of nature Arthur Laurents received word of a Colombian production of the musical West Side Story performed entirely in Spanish, he began to envision a more realistic, bilingual version of the show he originally wrote the book for 55 years ago.
The subsequent 2009 revival, in which characters affiliated with the Latino inner-city street gang, the Sharks, speak and sing some of the work's most famous numbers and dialogue in Spanish, featured lines and lyrics translated by Lin-Manuel Miranda, the brilliant composer and lyricist of In The Heights. The production added an unlikely new chapter to what was already a monument of American musical theater, selling more than a million tickets in two years on Broadway. It also sparked a two-year national tour that draws to a close with its final dates in Durham next week.
Laurents, who came to believe that earlier productions portrayed the Sharks and the Jets as "too innocent," sought a darker reading in this revival of the world he created with composer Leonard Bernstein, lyricist Steven Sondheim and choreographer Jerome Robbins in 1955. "You don't treat these kids as little darlings," Laurents told The New York Times in 2008. "They're all killers, Jets and Sharks. And the piece is really about how love is destroyed by a world of violence and bigotry."This last look at an American master's new vision of a musical theater masterpiece opens at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday and continues through June 10. —Byron Woods