Friday, February 6, 2009

Dance in Musicals: Part 3—Musicals Head to Hollywood

I'm in the hospital in Florida with my 97-year-old Grandfather. (He should be out of here in the next few days.) While I watch him sleep, I thought I'd add the next post in the Dance in Musicals series.

Part 3: Musicals Head to Hollywood

The 1950s would see more Broadway shows turn into Hollywood musicals. Broadway choreographers received opportunities to recreate their stage dances for the big screen. Such musicals included: Oklahoma, Carousel, The King and I and West Side Story.

Audiences who enjoyed old-fashioned Cinderella-stories were shocked by West Side Story, considered a modern Romeo and Juliet, with juvenile delinquents taking center stage. The plot and song lyrics infuriated some people who felt they reflected poor taste and showed a side of American life considered inappropriate for a musical (Laufe 222). Jerome Robbins proposed the idea for the book, written by Arthur Laurents, and was the show’s choreographer and director. The musical opened in New York in September 1957, with an unhappy ending and little humor. However, even those reviewers who were skeptical about the plot were impressed with Robbins’ choreography. Finger snapping, lurching and leaping were new developments in the theater, which are now common on stage. Robbins expanded upon the athletic capabilities of male dancing first seen in Oklahoma. The choreography propelled the plot forward, some thought more than the score, written by Leonard Bernstein (Laufe 224-226).

In 1964, Robbins was director and choreographer for Fiddler on the Roof, one of his greatest hits. His choreography during the wedding celebration incorporated Jewish cultural traditions, while dancing with wine bottles balancing on their hats. After Fiddler, Robbins concentrated on creating works for the New York City Ballet and other companies (Kenrick, “Who's Who in Musicals”).

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