Lin-Manuel Miranda Does “West Side Story”

Lin-Manuel Miranda ’02 is keeping busy adapting a fresh Broadway revival of “West Side Story”, translating much of the musical’s original dialogue and song lyrics into Spanish:

In his own musical Mr. Miranda struggled to balance English and Spanish; he said that, surprisingly, the amount of Spanish doubled between the Off Broadway and Broadway productions. In the song “Breathe,” he noted, when one of the characters returns home confused after dropping out of college, her friends sing about how she has always been the star of the neighborhood.

“It’s much more visceral to hear them sing in Spanish,” said Mr. Miranda, dressed in a hooded blue sweatshirt from Wesleyan, where he first started writing “In the Heights.”

New York Times: A Changed ‘West Side Story’ Returns to a Changed New York
Washington Post: A Bilingual Return to National Theatre Stage

24 thoughts on “Lin-Manuel Miranda Does “West Side Story”

  1. Anonymous

    It’s an issue that we’re constantly battling with: Should we say that we’re all the same, deep down, because that would bring us closer together? Or should we say that we are different, deep down, but it’s okay because diversity is good? Or should we say that we’re all the same, deep down, so it’s okay to keep more superficial differences (like clothing/food/language)? It kind of brings up our conflicting ideas about what we want for our country…PS I’ve loved reading this discussion. I wish I were as eloquent as you all!

  2. Anonymous

    It’s an issue that we’re constantly battling with: Should we say that we’re all the same, deep down, because that would bring us closer together? Or should we say that we are different, deep down, but it’s okay because diversity is good? Or should we say that we’re all the same, deep down, so it’s okay to keep more superficial differences (like clothing/food/language)? It kind of brings up our conflicting ideas about what we want for our country…

    PS I’ve loved reading this discussion. I wish I were as eloquent as you all!

  3. Anonymous

    Joe:Yeah, I think the difference is that while we *should* coexist peacefully, we don’t; and certainly we didn’t. I think there is a lot of merit to emotionally accurate portrayals of the tensions between assimilation, cultural pride, and racism (or maybe otherism).I think the melting-pot vs stew (I’ve heard mosaic or patchwork as metaphors, but it’s the same idea) is an interesting debate. Personally, I would rather live in a stew than a melting pot. The melting-pot is a tricky concept. On the one hand, it speaks to an American culture that has room for everyone and that can change with its population. On the other hand, it means that when you immigrate, you’re home culture is essentially replaced by American culture. I don’t think that the melting-pot image has ever really been true; American main-stream culture is still very much white, protestant, children-of-the-puritans culture. Acknowledging the lack of complete blending, I think, makes room for the subcultures that exist in America that really haven’t impacted the general culture-at-large. wow, that was much longer than I expected it to be…as for ITH vs WSS, I think the generational gap between the characters is really important in understanding the purpose of their “ghettoization.” In WSS, all the Latin characters are Puerto Rican and ostensibly immigrated together (I think? It’s been a while since I’ve seen it). They are a single group. They also live in a blatantly racist society that makes no claim to acceptance. In ITH, the community of characters is Latino-American. They are the product of a sort of mini-melting-pot effect where, despite being from different countries or even being first or second generation American, the characters identify as part of a larger immigrant culture defined primarily by language. They also live in 21st century NYC which, while not a utopia, is certainly not as racist as the city (NY?) in WSS. So I think when Usnavi chooses to stick with “his people,” and when Miranda chooses to depict this as a heroic act, it is very different from him forcing the audience of WSS to only identify with the group or groups they would identify with in real life (again, exception for spanish-speaking non latins). The latter is about understanding the culture and era of the show, it’s a storytelling device for an audience who has grown up with a very different kind of racism than the audience who would have seen the original show. The former, well, I’m not sure what to think about the former. I can’t tell if Miranda meant for it to be an overarching statement about culture, identity, togetherness, etc, or if it was just the right choice for Usnavi, the character. Either way, I think the ideas are different enough that it doesn’t speak to a theme of Miranda’s.God, that was also really long. sorry.~12:38

  4. Anonymous

    Joe:
    Yeah, I think the difference is that while we *should* coexist peacefully, we don’t; and certainly we didn’t. I think there is a lot of merit to emotionally accurate portrayals of the tensions between assimilation, cultural pride, and racism (or maybe otherism).

    I think the melting-pot vs stew (I’ve heard mosaic or patchwork as metaphors, but it’s the same idea) is an interesting debate. Personally, I would rather live in a stew than a melting pot. The melting-pot is a tricky concept. On the one hand, it speaks to an American culture that has room for everyone and that can change with its population. On the other hand, it means that when you immigrate, you’re home culture is essentially replaced by American culture. I don’t think that the melting-pot image has ever really been true; American main-stream culture is still very much white, protestant, children-of-the-puritans culture. Acknowledging the lack of complete blending, I think, makes room for the subcultures that exist in America that really haven’t impacted the general culture-at-large.
    wow, that was much longer than I expected it to be…

    as for ITH vs WSS, I think the generational gap between the characters is really important in understanding the purpose of their “ghettoization.” In WSS, all the Latin characters are Puerto Rican and ostensibly immigrated together (I think? It’s been a while since I’ve seen it). They are a single group. They also live in a blatantly racist society that makes no claim to acceptance. In ITH, the community of characters is Latino-American. They are the product of a sort of mini-melting-pot effect where, despite being from different countries or even being first or second generation American, the characters identify as part of a larger immigrant culture defined primarily by language. They also live in 21st century NYC which, while not a utopia, is certainly not as racist as the city (NY?) in WSS. So I think when Usnavi chooses to stick with “his people,” and when Miranda chooses to depict this as a heroic act, it is very different from him forcing the audience of WSS to only identify with the group or groups they would identify with in real life (again, exception for spanish-speaking non latins). The latter is about understanding the culture and era of the show, it’s a storytelling device for an audience who has grown up with a very different kind of racism than the audience who would have seen the original show. The former, well, I’m not sure what to think about the former. I can’t tell if Miranda meant for it to be an overarching statement about culture, identity, togetherness, etc, or if it was just the right choice for Usnavi, the character. Either way, I think the ideas are different enough that it doesn’t speak to a theme of Miranda’s.
    God, that was also really long. sorry.

    ~12:38

  5. Anonymous

    i think it’s funny everyone keeps talking about authenticity with his spanish translation of west side story, but if they wanted to go for true authenticity, then they’d make it about Jews and Catholics, the way that Leonard Bernstein wrote the play

  6. Anonymous

    i think it’s funny everyone keeps talking about authenticity with his spanish translation of west side story, but if they wanted to go for true authenticity, then they’d make it about Jews and Catholics, the way that Leonard Bernstein wrote the play

  7. Joe

    12:38: I think you’re right, actually. It’s a weird goal though, don’t you think? It’s a change from what I was taught growing up, you know, that we’re all deep down the same, and we should all coexist peacefully. I think you’re absolutely right that the feeling of alienation is what the production was going for, but something still struck me as odd (neither good nor bad) about it. (And I speak Spanish reasonably well, too!)In the Heights, too, ends with Usnavi staying and glorifying what is essentially his ghetto, even as all his friends are leaving. Staying on his corner, serving coffee for the rest of his life, never leaving “home;” I don’t know. Is it anti-assimilation, or am I just reading it wrong? You tell me. Someone said (and I don’t remember who) that America is no longer a “melting pot” society; we’re more of a “stew” now, with all these different flavors being thrown in independently. It’s neither good nor bad, but I think it’s an interesting cultural change.

  8. Joe

    12:38: I think you’re right, actually. It’s a weird goal though, don’t you think? It’s a change from what I was taught growing up, you know, that we’re all deep down the same, and we should all coexist peacefully. I think you’re absolutely right that the feeling of alienation is what the production was going for, but something still struck me as odd (neither good nor bad) about it. (And I speak Spanish reasonably well, too!)

    In the Heights, too, ends with Usnavi staying and glorifying what is essentially his ghetto, even as all his friends are leaving. Staying on his corner, serving coffee for the rest of his life, never leaving “home;” I don’t know. Is it anti-assimilation, or am I just reading it wrong? You tell me.

    Someone said (and I don’t remember who) that America is no longer a “melting pot” society; we’re more of a “stew” now, with all these different flavors being thrown in independently. It’s neither good nor bad, but I think it’s an interesting cultural change.

  9. Anonymous

    Joe:I wonder if your reaction is what the show was going for. There’s an argument to be made that having the emotions of the PR characters only accessible to a portion of the audience (a portion that, obviously, won’t be comprised only of Latinos but who will be symbolically linked to Latino culture by speaking spanish) is more realistic than having them speaking english and therefore communicating as characters with the whole audience. I’m not sure if that made sense, and I don’t mean to imply that this is a perfect interpretation of american “race” relations, but that may have been the point.

  10. Anonymous

    Joe:
    I wonder if your reaction is what the show was going for. There’s an argument to be made that having the emotions of the PR characters only accessible to a portion of the audience (a portion that, obviously, won’t be comprised only of Latinos but who will be symbolically linked to Latino culture by speaking spanish) is more realistic than having them speaking english and therefore communicating as characters with the whole audience. I’m not sure if that made sense, and I don’t mean to imply that this is a perfect interpretation of american “race” relations, but that may have been the point.

  11. Joe

    I saw this production when it was in D.C. I left the theater feeling quite uncomfortable, actually. Let me explain…Yes, having the Puerto Ricans speak Spanish makes them more authentic, but it also others them in a way that I didn’t expect. Yes, it’s great to celebrate cultural diversity, but when you can’t understand what Anita is saying at a crucial moment in the story, well, how are we supposed to relate to the Puerto Ricans’ drama? Okay, you don’t need to know Spanish to understand what “I Feel Pretty” is about, but I thought Anita’s song was pretty problematic.In general, I’m not one to value P.C. ness or the “let’s just do something new!” -attitude at the expense of clarity of narrative, even if the show is so well-known. And while I’m at it, if they wanted to go for something “authentic” and “real” in their interpretation, why did they dress all the Puerto Ricans in purple and the Jets all in orange? Just seems like the production didn’t know what it was going for.Not that I have anything against Lin-Manuel, though. Great guy. Maybe I didn’t “get” the performance when I saw it; but I left the theater more uncomfortable about the translation than impressed by it. Just sayin’.

  12. Joe

    I saw this production when it was in D.C. I left the theater feeling quite uncomfortable, actually. Let me explain…

    Yes, having the Puerto Ricans speak Spanish makes them more authentic, but it also others them in a way that I didn’t expect. Yes, it’s great to celebrate cultural diversity, but when you can’t understand what Anita is saying at a crucial moment in the story, well, how are we supposed to relate to the Puerto Ricans’ drama? Okay, you don’t need to know Spanish to understand what “I Feel Pretty” is about, but I thought Anita’s song was pretty problematic.

    In general, I’m not one to value P.C. ness or the “let’s just do something new!” -attitude at the expense of clarity of narrative, even if the show is so well-known. And while I’m at it, if they wanted to go for something “authentic” and “real” in their interpretation, why did they dress all the Puerto Ricans in purple and the Jets all in orange? Just seems like the production didn’t know what it was going for.

    Not that I have anything against Lin-Manuel, though. Great guy. Maybe I didn’t “get” the performance when I saw it; but I left the theater more uncomfortable about the translation than impressed by it. Just sayin’.

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