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Bilingual West Side Story

interior-wss This report was broadcast on BBC World Service radio in April, 2009.

“We turn now to a new Broadway production of West Side Story with a twist. The musical – a version of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, set in 1950s New York – is a classic of the genre, with music by Leonard Bernstein and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, allied to the iconic choreography of Jerome Robbins. A film version, released in 1961, won ten Academy Awards.

Arthur Laurents, who wrote the original dialogue, is directing this new version, which comes with a fairly radical innovation (by Broadway standards, at least): the Puerto Rican Sharks – one of two rival gangs fighting over a patch of Manhattan turf – now speak and sing in Spanish. It’s the first time mainstream audiences have had the chance to hear Maria, Bernardo and Anita speaking in their native tongue – the idea being to give the Latino characters equal prominence and update an extremely popular musical which hasn’t aged particularly well.

But is a linguistic shift enough to make West Side Story relevant again? Or has one of the world’s most cosmopolitan cities simply changed too much with each new wave of immigrants for the show to keep up? Our New York correspondent, Andrew Purcell, has made this report.”

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