[UCP Books]: A PLACE FOR US
A fresh look at a beloved American classic—and the city at its heart
West Side Story and New York
Julia L. Foulkes
|Publication date: November 15, 2016||978-0-226-30180-8|
|International publication date: November 15, 2016||$30.00/£21.00|
West Side Story is all but ubiquitous—whether we watch an earnest high school production or the brilliantly choreographed Technicolor Best Picture winner of 1961, it’s become a part of the fabric of our cultural life, as resonant and exciting today as it was when it debuted on Broadway.
With A Place for Us, Julia Foulkes tells the story of the creation of the musical and the film—but she also does something more. She reveals a key aspect of West Side Story’s importance and appeal, an aspect that its decades of popularity have obscured: the way that the musical was born of, and reflects, the vibrant bustle of the midcentury city of its setting.
A lifelong fan of the show, Foulkes became interested in its history when she made an unexpected discovery: parts of the film version were shot on the demolition site of what would ultimately be part of the Lincoln Center redevelopment—a crowning jewel of postwar urban renewal. Foulkes interweaves the story of the creation of the musical and film with the remaking of the Upper West Side and the larger tale of New York’s postwar aspirations. Making unprecedented use of Jerome Robbins’s revelatory papers, she shows the crucial role played by the political commitments of Robbins and his fellow gay, Jewish collaborators, Leonard Bernstein and Arthur Laurents: their determination to evoke life in New York as it was actually lived helped give West Side Story its unshakable sense of place even as it put forward a vision of a new, vigorous, determinedly multicultural American city.
The resulting book holds surprises for even the most dedicated West Side Story fan, helping us to see this iconic musical—and the moment in American history it reflects—afresh.
Julia L. Foulkes is professor of history at the New School in New York and the author of Modern Bodies: Dance and American Modernism from Martha Graham to Alvin Ailey and To the City: Urban Photographs of the New Deal. She is available for interviews.