Before on this blog, I have commented how troubling I found the lyrics that Stephen Sondheim wrote to “America” for the stage version of West Side Story. I was reminded of this when I was watching the his birthday concert for the hundredth time yesterday. (It’s comfort food.)
The lyrics paint a grim picture of Puerto Rico, while glorifying the mainland American experience. I always feel uncomfortable, as though I am listening to a cleverly written but no less objectionable ethnic joke. (I always thought the best part of the piece was Jerome Robbins’ explosive choreography.)
Then I read the lyric Sondheim wrote for the movie version. It is sharp, pointed, and gives voice to the frustrations of people looking to find a better life, who facing slamming doors and limited opportunities, contrasted against the hope and optimism of those who are excited and happy about their home.
I love it.