West Side Story is a largely youth driven musical, so what insights do the few adults seen in the film give the viewer?
West Side Story introduces the viewer to two very different, but impactful types of adults. Doc, the local drugstore owner, and Lieutenant Schrank along with his partner Officer Krupke, want the Sharks and Jets to stop fighting, though their motivations are different. Doc, who’s drugstore acts as a safe haven for the Jets and a venue for their war council with this Sharks, is genuinely concerned for the well being of the teens but is powerless to stop the violence. Doc may be frustrated and frightened by the fighting, but, at the same time, he is not naïve. When Tony first tells Doc about Maria, Doc asks Tony, “aren’t things tough enough already?”
Lieutenant Schrank and Officer Krupke, on the other hand, represent oppressive authority and the failings of the law. Unlike Doc, Lieutenant Schrank is not morally opposed to the Jets and Sharks fighting and killing, but he does care about how it might affect his career. After breaking up the first physical encounter between the Jets and the Sharks during the prologue of the film, Schrank tells both gangs, “You wanna kill each other, kill each other! But you ain't gonna do it on my beat.” He goes on to tell the Jets, “If I don't get a little law and order around here, I get busted down to a traffic corner. And your friend don't like traffic corners. So that means you're gonna start making nice with the PRs from now on.” From this encounter it is clear that Schrank is more concerned with his own selfish rationality than truly ending the conflict between the Jets and the Sharks.
What is the role of youth and generational gaps in this musical?
The Jets and Sharks both feel marginalized by the adults in their lives, and are only empowered by “owning” their streets. The Sharks and the Jets are repeatedly referred to as hoodlums by all of the adult figures in the film and are generally discounted as being no good. This theme is addressed in the comedic, yet powerful song “Gee Officer Krupke,” in which the Jets poke fun at the system that created then criminalized their gang. In this song, the Jets are comically passed from an officer, to a judge, to a shrink, to a social worker who finally decides the only thing the boy needs is “a year in the pen.” This song highlights the gap between the kids and the authority figures in their lives. The disparity between the teens and adults is exemplified in this interaction between Doc and Action:
Doc: Why, when I was your age...
Action: When you was my age? When my old man was my age, when my brother was my age... You was never my age, none of ya! And the sooner you creeps get hip to that, the sooner you'll dig us!
Doc: I'll dig you an early grave, that's what I'll dig.
What is the role of loyalty in West Side Story?
There are multiple layers of loyalty at work within West Side Story; loyalty to your race, loyalty to your friends, and loyalty to yourself. Both Tony and Maria experience internal and external conflict when they sacrifice being loyal to their races and instead are loyal to themselves and their feelings. Loyalty is fluid in this movie. Tony is loyal to himself rather than his race when falls in love with Maria, but later on kills Bernardo because of his loyalty to his best friend Riff.
West Side Story by Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim Essay
1472 Words6 Pages
Musical theatre is a type of theatrical performance combining music, dance, acting and spoken dialogue. Written by Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim, ‘West Side Story’ is a classic American musical based on William Shakespeare’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’. The through-composed score and lyrics are used to portray different characters and their cultures, the rivalry between the Jets and Sharks, and the emotions felt as the story progresses. This essay will be exploring the music and how effective the score is in realising the world and characters of the musical. Furthermore, it will discuss how Bernstein and Sondheim relate characters’ diverse ethnicities to particular musical ideas and motifs.
In the opening prologue, Bernstein quickly…show more content…
Figure 2: Bitonality seen in ‘Tonight (Ensemble)’ (2000: 115)
In ‘Dance at the gym’, Bernstein uses the score and choreographed dance to illustrate the tension created between the two rival gangs. The motifs from ‘The Jet Song’ can be seen in bar 32 of the blues which is typical of jazz music and elements from ‘America’ are placed into the mambo which is percussive and typical of Latin-American music. The constant use of these motifs represents each gang and their characters by using characteristics of the music from their own country. The last method Bernstein uses to create tension between the gangs is the use of asymmetrical rhythms with pauses over rests which is unnerving to the audience. This can be seen in the opening of ‘The Jet Song’ when the chords are placed in unexpected places from the start of the song.
Figure 3: Asymmetrical rhythms and unexpected pauses create tension. (2000: 13)
Bernstein and Sondheim use the score and lyrics to depict individual characters using traditional music and speaking styles from their individual cultures, which can clearly be seen throughout the musical. In the ‘Jet Song’, the unsteady chords from the opening of the prologue and the Jets’ leitmotif are used frequently to once again show the audience unity between the gang members. Sondheim’s lyrics contain colloquial language such as “chicks” and “dig” as seen in bar 109 to emphasise the Western gang culture and once