Author(s): Julia L. Foulkes
From its Broadway debut to the Oscar-winning film to countless amateur productions, West Side Story is nothing less than an American touchstone an updating of Shakespeare located in a vividly realized, rapidly changing postwar New York. That vision of postwar New York is at the heart of Julia L. Foulkes's A Place for Us. A lifelong fan of the show, Foulkes became interested in its history when she made an unexpected discovery: parts of the iconic 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. Beautifully written and full of surprises for even the most dedicated West Side Story fan, A Place for Us is a powerful new exploration of an American classic.
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.