One hand, one heart, two tongues

A revival of West Side Story, directed by the 90-year-old author of the 1957 musical’s book, aims to redress the original’s anti-Puerto Rican bias (or just plain inaccuracy). I hope at least one of the gangs will hold on to the dorky-cool ballet swagger. But even if not, it’d be worth it to hear the songs in Spanish.

Added excitement comes from the bilingual reworking of the libretto. When Maria sings I Feel Pretty it comes out as: “Hoy me siento/Tan Hermosa/Tan preciosa que puedo volar/Y no hay diosa, en el mundo, que me va a alcanzar.”

Lin-Manuel Miranda, creator of the recent hit musical In The Heights, which focuses on a poor neighbourhood of Manhattan’s Washington Heights faced with gentrification, was recruited to rewrite the lyrics. The Sharks sing in Spanish, with English surtitles, while the delinquent Jets sing in English.

Laurents was given the idea of a bi-lingual show after his companion, Tom Hatcher, who died two years ago, saw an all-Spanish staging of the musical in Colombia in which the Sharks – the Capulets of Shakespeare’s play – were transformed into heroes, the Jets into villains.

Laurents intends to make the new version darker and more threatening than previous stagings, certainly more so than the film, of which he is disparaging. “I thought the whole thing was terrible. Day-Glo costumes and fake accents!” he told the Washington Post.

Originally published at

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