After 20 years at the University of Oregon, I have retired. So, I will begin posting about my new experiences here and hope you find them interesting.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Are lewd gestures a legitimate update to West Side Story in the 21st century?

West Side Story
West Side Story (Photo credit: thejcgerm)
I loved the 1961 movie "West Side Story" and even learned the lyrics to all of the songs when my older sister Pam bought the LP album.  So I was excited when I found out that "Broadway Across America" was going to present "West Side Story" right here in Eugene at The Hult Center.  I bought my ticket months in advance and eagerly anticipated my chance to see the play.  I even got a ticket in the very front row!

So, when I arrived at the theater I was anxious for the performance to begin.  The theater company had their own orchestra and the music was as marvelous as I remembered.  As each scene unfolded the performances of the actors playing Anita, Maria, Riff, Bernardo and Action were very professional.  The actor playing Tony seemed a little hesitant but his singing, though, was quite strong.  His projection was a little uneven in the first song but he seemed to settle down after that.  I wondered if he would be able to pull off singing "Maria" as this song requires so much range but he absolutely nailed it!

I was surprised, however, by the bedroom scene with Tony and Maria and the simulated gang rape of Anita as neither was present in the movie (that I could remember).  But I figured that was considered updating the story for a 21st century audience more familiar with far more vicious gang behavior.  I willingly accepted these changes as well as much more Spanish in the song lyrics (obviously a nod to the much higher percentage of Hispanic peoples in our population now). But, I must admit I was appalled by the addition of lewd gestures during the performance of the song "Officer Krupke".  The gestures seem less obvious in the clip from "YouTube" or maybe it's because I was sitting just a few feet away from the actors in the front row.  I suppose the change in choreography could also be considered updating too, but I felt the crudeness was unnecessary and somehow cheapened the performance.  I also found the gangs' openly disrespectful behavior toward "Doc" who ran the drug store where the teens socialized to be very uncomfortable, too - definitely not the atmosphere portrayed in TV's "Happy Days" and definitely not the behavior I would like to see viewed as acceptable.

Robin Williams
Robin Williams (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I realize members of 21st century gangs are far more brutal than the late 1950s era Sharks and Jets ever dreamed.  But I'm not sure this type of melding current social behaviors with a vintage musical is an improvement.  I remember watching the original movie in the contemporary setting of the early 1960s and I got the message of the story without having to squirm with discomfort over extremely unpleasant behaviors.

I sometimes wonder why openly lewd behavior has become so commonplace that our society just seems to accept it or just laugh it off.  Several months ago I attended a presentation by Robin Williams, also at the Hult Center.  I realize standup comedy can get quite crude, having visited a comedy club down in San Francisco once. But Mr. Williams is such an amazing talent and I loved his performance in "Good Morning, Vietnam" so much that I jumped at the chance to see him in person.  It was quite funny in parts and I'm glad I attended but I couldn't help but wonder why Mr. Williams, who has received so many awards and accolades from our society, seemed to feel he needed to include so much "crotch grabbing" as he did in that performance.  Perhaps he felt it was necessary to win over an audience that included so many college students, as Eugene is the home of the University of Oregon.  If so, that's a sad commentary on the intellectual maturity of our "best and brightest".  Personally, I would have laughed far more at some good political zingers and I think most of the audience would have enjoyed them more too.

Oh well, maybe I'm just becoming an old fuddy duddy!
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