Every genre and form in history of music had its own moments of expansion, when creative impact and strength of expression is recognizable and legible for a wide society. There should be need to learn contemporary art. No one did learn to understand sonata in times of Mozart or to hear swing bands in 1940s. But what was once a natural formula, what was the message fully relevant to common sensitivity, after years can occur nothing more than an empty formula of strange gestures. Among many forms musical theatre (in English as well as in many other languages called just musical) is one of most capacious. It’s more loose than opera or operetta, more dramatic than vaudeville or extravaganza. And the quality of every living form is its permanent changing. Musicals of sixties were at least so much distant from fifties than fifties from forties.
It is normal, in any dynamically changing reality always happen some unexpected turns up and down. It is quite a rule every decade has few significant musicals, like Show Boat in 1927, Anything Goes in 1934, Oklahoma! in 1943, Fiddler on the Roof in 1964, Cabaret in 1966, Hair in 1968 or Chorus Line in 1975. But one musical produced on Broadway in 1957 was quite unique phenomenon. It was West Side Story written by Arthur Laurents with Stephen Sondheim’s lyrics and music composed by Leonard Bernstein. While Stephen Sondheim was young lyricist, other two were experienced authors. Bernstein had his big success in musical theatre before – it was On the Town from 1944. Based on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, musical West Side Story beat all expectations. In few years it was produced as a movie and became world class hit on many theatres and pure musical arrangements including composer’s own symphonic version. Until today this is evergreen of many theatres all over the world.
Cinematic version of this musical made Bernstein’s score extremely popular. In 1957 record with songs from original Broadway cast was published by Columbia Records. Company initially refused this edition because of “depressive and difficult nature of the score”. Due to success of the original cast recording and first jazz versions of musical songs recorded in 1959 by André Previn, the soundtrack from the movie West Side Story was issued without delay in 1961. Published under headline The Original Sound Track Recording this record is unquestionably top hit in the history of musical soundtracks.
This is also a document of its time. Synopsis of the story and many photos from the movie can give an idea of how good is the movie, just like CBS editors believe records buyers need some encouragement to go to the theatre. However it is impossible to find any information about real voices of Maria and Tony. Songs of Maria, who was played in the movie by Natalie Wood, were dubbed by Marni Nixon. The same with Tony’s played by Richard Beymer but singed by Jimmy Bryant. Some subtle changes in text were added just to fit songs to movie narration. For example in original version of I Feel Pretty from West Side Story of 1957 we can hear:
I feel pretty, oh, so pretty,
I feel pretty and witty and bright!
And I pity any girl who isn't me tonight.
While in recorded three years later movie version, lyrics are:
I feel pretty, oh, so pretty,
I feel pretty and witty and gay!
And I pity any girl who isn't me today.
Some people ask if this change was effect of any kind of censorship or strange definition of political correctness but the probable cause was that in stage and movie versions the same scenes were just happening in different times. By the way, in 1961 the word gay was still synonymous to happy or joyous. And this is how Natalie Wood looks in this scene and how Marni Nixon sounds. Of course we can use the word bright as well.