The ‘West Side Story’ Story: Past, Present, and Future

Gil Harel
Gil Harel
Brandeis University

Gil Harel is a musicologist and music theorist who lectures widely at Brandeis University and additional venues on topics ranging from renaissance motets to atonal opera. A piano accompanist and vocal coach, Professor Harel’s musical interests range from western classical repertoire to musical theater and jazz. Previously, he has served on the faculty at the Southwestern University of Finance and Economics in Chengdu, China, and at CUNY Baruch College, where he was awarded the prestigious “Presidential Excellence Award for Distinguished Teaching.”

 

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Few musicals in the Broadway canon have had the impact of West Side Story. Inspired by Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, this 20th century tale of forbidden love was the product of a massive collaboration between some of the biggest names in the history of the genre, including Leonard Bernstein, Stephen Sondheim, Arthur Laurents, Jerome Robbins, and more. Historians often describe West Side Story as a watershed work that changed the trajectory of Broadway through the introduction of especially intricate and challenging music and dance. It also cast a spotlight on complex social and racial issues which were, for that time, taboo and rare in the theater. Though set in the 1950s, the timelessness of the story is reflected in the fact that it has experienced no fewer than eight revivals since its 1957 premier (including an ephemeral and ill-fated early 2020 run). Indeed, West Side Story is as topical as ever, with audiences anticipating a Spielberg-directed cinematic adaptation slated for release in December 2021. Join Professor Gil Harel as he examines the legacy of this remarkable work: how it came together, how it has evolved and remained relevant, and finally, how the story has been and might be adapted in future incarnations.

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