Archive for September 3rd, 2014



by Sam Juliano

The film of  West Side Story produces the same brilliant effect as the play.  This does not mean that the stage show has merely been duplicated; on the contrary, to get the same effect, it had to be effectively translated into a second medium.  Because of the quality of the original materials and of the translation, the result is the best film musical ever made.              -Stanley Kauffmann, The New Republic

West Side Story, a cultural institution with a legacy to match any American film in the musical genre or otherwise, is also a curiosity.  Though it originally ran for 732 performances on Broadway starting in 1957 -an impressive number by any barometer – it did not reach the zenith of theatrical and musical fulfillment until it was transferred to the screen  four year later.  The original show is now seen as much more than a classic musical, indeed one of the very few works that fundamentally changed the form of the musical.  One of the greatest of the influences was in the theatricality of its presentation – the seamlessness and cinematic flow of its staging and the integration of script, song, dance and set.  The operatic score by Leonard Bernstein, with book and lyrics from Stephen Sondheim is arguably one of the two greatest ever written for the musical theater – the other is Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II’s Show Boat, which also represented a radical departure in musical storytelling.  Almost every song from that score is now considered a standard and most of them are regularly performed in concerts, nightclubs and updated recordings.  Cast albums have been produced all over the world in places like the United Kingdom, Australia, Japan, Sweden and Italy among others, and in various styles, instrumentation and interpretations.   The play continues to be mounted frequently in high schools, universities, community and regional theaters, and in successful revivals around the globe.  The libretto has been translated in over 26 languages, and in high school English classes it has been taught as a companion piece to Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, the timeless romantic work upon which it was based. (more…)

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 © 2014 by James Clark

      Spy stories tend to get enmeshed in fulsome displays of overt cleverness and irony. Overt irony. Anton Corbijn’s A Most Wanted Man (2014) excitingly thinks outside the industry’s box.

Getting to the nub of its protagonist’s grubby accomplishment entails no small measure of mucking about in the narrative’s most murky moments. One of the most rewarding brownouts occurs when our protagonist, German agent, Gunther Bachmann, gets together with Martha, an American security expert based at the Embassy in Berlin, at a scuzzy bar at his home base of Hamburg. The picture of executive composure and sanguine fitness, always seen in a tastefully minimalist dark suit, she addresses her colleague—unkempt, overweight, insomnia-enshrouded—with, “Tell me which way you’re headed…” He sketches for her what she is well aware of, an Islamist terror ring prominently supported by a self-styled progressive fund raiser for humanitarian relief to displaced, innocent, warm-hearted Muslims. Bachmann’s immediate point, though, is that a more obvious and far less professional enemy of infidels, recently arrived in Hamburg, would be more effectively dealt with as a means of shutting down Abdullah the stealthy dealer of war bucks than as a jail-bound illegal small-fry. In the midst of his lobbying that simple dresser hopefully not simplistic, Bachmann becomes irritated that one of the drug-addled habitués of a place Martha responds to with, “Can’t do any better than this?” (no doubt mischievously  chosen by our personally sloppy but professionally formidable and witty charmer of a guide through a minefield that can cut down the best of them) is beating the shit out of a lady friend. He goes over to the attacker and levels him with a heavy blow (not bad for a chain-smoker). But the lady insists, “It’s OK,” and the peace disturbers are quickly peaceful with one another. Martha tells him, “Now I’m really impressed…” But did either of these hawk-eyes consider the simplistic implications of such goodwill, staring them right in the face? (more…)

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