- Hapgood, Robert. "West Side Story and the Modern Appeal of
- Romeo and Juliet." The Shakespeare Jahrbuch 8 (1972): 99-112. Rptd. in Romeo and Juliet: Critical Essays. Ed. John F. Andrews. New York: Garland, 1993. 229-241.
Thesis: Hapgood opens his essay by writing, "There is a sense in which a modern adaptation can be regarded as a form of critical interpretation of the original, its emphases and omissions, successes and failures serving to sharpen our awareness of the original and its modern appeal" (229). However, Hapgood doesn't deliver on his promise to provide insight about Romeo and Juliet. Instead, he uses comparisons between Shakespeare's play and West Side Story in order to make observations about the American musical.
Another salient feature of Romeo and Juliet that West Side Story capitalizes upon is its youthfulness, not only in its subject of young love but in its manner of presentation. It was "the intensity of adolescent feeling" in the play that first prompted Robbins to think of making an adaptation. Shakespeare intensified his pace by compressing the time of his source from months to less than a week. Laurents went still further, confining the action to two successive evenings, five o'clock to midnight. Shakespeare's "hot days" became the "last days of summer"; Robbins remarked about the real West Side: "Those kids live like pressure cookers. . . . There's a constant tension, a feeling of the kids having steam that they don't know how to let off." Stephen Sondheim was later to regret the insouciance of some of his lyrics: "I was so anxious to show off -- to demonstrate I could rhyme anything that I still wince over some of the lyrics. Maria would just not say 'I feel pretty / I feel charming / it's alarming / how charming I feel.'" Certainly, the word-play in the last line of this song ("I'm in love with a pretty wonderful guy") seems forced. But at their best his lyrics have an appropriately brash exuberance. (217)
Bottom Line: Not really about Romeo and Juliet.