New Herald Tribune, 9/57
From New York Herald Tribune, 9/27/57
Theater critic Walter Kerr wrote the following review of West Side Story for the New York Herald Tribune on September 27, 1957:
The radioactive fallout from "West Side Story" must still be descending on Broadway this morning.
Director, choreographer, and idea-man Jerome Robbins has put together, and then blasted apart, the most savage, restless, electrifying dance patterns we've been exposed to in a dozen seasons.
The curtain rises on a silence, and a pause. It is the last silence and the last pause. Against an empty-eyed background of warehouse windows five or six blue-jacketed young delinquents, with the tribal-mark "Jets" scrawled across their taut shoulders, are lounging, waiting for the first faint whisper of violence.
Their impatience comes to life in their fingers. A snapping rhythm begins to tap out a warning of mayhem to come. Knees begin to itch, and move, under the lazy, overcast mid-summer sky in Puerto-Rican New York.
The Sharks--equally young, equally sick with very old hatreds--appear from the alleyways in twos and threes. There is a sneer, a hiss, a tempting and tantalizing thrust of an arm, and then--with a powerhouse downbeat from the orchestra pit--the sorry and meaningless frenzy is on. From this moment the show rides with a catastrophic roar over the spider-web fire-escapes, the shadowed trestles, and the plain dirt battlegrounds of a big city feud.
Mr. Robbins never runs out of his original explosive life-force. Though the essential images are always the same--two spitting groups of people advancing with bared teeth and clawed fists upon one another--there is fresh excitement in the next debacle, and the next. When a gang leader advises his cohorts to play it "Cool," the intolerable tension between and effort at control and the instinctive drives of these potential killers is stingingly graphic. When the knives come out, and bodies begin to fly wildly through space under buttermilk clouds, the sheer visual excitement is breathtaking.
.[Robbins] has almost sacrificially assisted in this macabre and murderous onslaught of movement by composer Leonard Bernstein. Mr. Bernstein has permitted himself a few moments of graceful, lingering melody: in a yearning "Maria," in the hushed falling line of "Tonight," in the wistful declaration of "I Have a Love."
But for the most part he has served the needs of the onstage threshing machine, setting the fierce beat that fuses a gymnasium dance, putting a mocking insistence behind taunts at a policeman, dramatizing the footwork rather than lifting emotions into song. When hero Larry Kert is stomping out the visionary insistence of "Something's Coming" both music and tumultuous story are given their due. Otherwise it's the danced narrative that takes urgent precedence..