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David Denton
David's Review Corner, September 2009

This stunning recording of the original 1957 Broadway cast is one of the most indispensable discs of a musical ever issued. But is West Side Story a musical or a 20th century American opera? The composer later ‘muddied the water’ by recording it with a team of opera singers, and the booklet details the work’s long and difficult gestation that almost saw it fade from the Bernstein’s packed diary. It was only to enjoy modest success on its first outing, the American Theatre Awards that year going to the crowd-pleasing The Music Man which took all the major honours. Bernstein then had to wait a further four years for the Oscar winning film to establish it as one of the major works in its genre. Going back to that original cast speaks volumes as to the real roots of the work, for surely there has never been a more appropriate performing group, and you can almost ‘smell’ the theatre in its sheer vivacity. The creamy crooning voice of Larry Kert and the young-sounding Carol Lawrence, as the ‘Romeo and Juliet’ characters, are set apart from the more coarse quality of the waring groups. Seventeen tracks are included giving 65 minutes of the score but omitting all of the text apart from a few linking words. Max Goberman conducted the excellent unnamed orchestra - probably the theatre’s enlarged ensemble. The 1957 sound came right at the beginning of the stereo era and obviously wanted to show off the possibilities the format offered, and is amazingly good for that time, both in terms of definition and impact. The three ‘encore’ tracks of music from Bernstein’s music for the film, On the Waterfront, add little to an already invaluable release.

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