Somewhere, there’s a place for us. We go through our lives searching for it…some of us are lucky enough to find it, the rest of us are still looking…
Yesterday would have been composer Leonard Bernstein’s 100th birthday. 100 years after his birth…and some 50 years after his score for “West Side Story” made him a household name…it’s good to see we’ve still got somewhere in our hearts for him.
“West Side Story” was by no means Leonard Bernstein’s first experience of public recognition, but it was the vehicle which took him out of his previous home in classical music and made his work famous the world over.
He’d been working with choreographer Jerome Robbins for several years on the basic concept of “West Side Story”…itself a re-imagined and updated version of William Shakespeare’s “Romeo And Juliet”…without making much progress.
That is, until Stephen Sondheim stepped in with the lyrics that we all love today, proving once again that you can’t have a great song without great lyrics, and you can’t have great lyrics without a great lyricist.
Stephen Sondheim was one of the best…you don’t pick up an Oscar, eight Tony Awards and eight Emmys for your lyrics over the years unless you’re one of the best.
I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve seen “West Side Story”. And every time I watch it, “Somewhere” always brings a tear to my eye. It floats in gently at a very moving moment in the film…
Maria (played by Natalie Wood) and Tony (played by Richard Beymer) have fallen in love. But they’ve had to keep their love secret…they know their friends and families would disapprove. Their lives could even be at risk just for the “crime” of falling in love with someone from a different background and ethnicity.
Yet, as it often does, love wins out over everything else…
Tony beseeches Maria to come with him somewhere far away from the mean streets they grew up on, where they could be together…where they could live in peace…where they didn’t need to be secretive about their love.
There’s a place for us
Somewhere a place for us
Peace and quiet and open air
Wait for us
This is a story as old as time…boy and girl fall in love although everyone disapproves. Perhaps they worship differently…represent traditional enemies…come from different cultures…have skin a different colour from one another…
I think it’s rather sad that this is a story as old as time. Surely over the years we’ve learned that there’s more in life that brings us together than pulls us apart…but I guess it doesn’t always work that way…
Some people prefer to exploit divisions than extend the hand of friendship and humanity to others. “West Side Story” might have taken its basic concept from “Romeo and Juliet”, but that concept has been around for a lot longer than Shakespeare’s play. And, sad to say, it’s still with us today.
Despite the loss of her brother and her boyfriend to violence in the same evening, Maria steps in when the Jets and the Sharks square up for another battle.
Through love, she stops further bloodshed when it would have been easy to give in to the desire for revenge.
But who would she be revenging? Maria has lost the two men she loved, one a Jet and one a Shark. Her sense of loss was the same. To her, there were no “Jets” or “Sharks”…no artificial labels or categorisations…just people she loved.
And that, for me, is the central message of “West Side Story”. As human beings, our similarities outweigh our differences, despite what anybody tells you. And if we work together through love, whatever our ethnicity, background and beliefs, the world might just be a better place for us all.
Maria never got the opportunity to live the life she wanted, with the man she loved…
There’s a time for us
Some day there’ll be a time for us
Time together with time to spare
Time to learn, time to care
As human beings we’re at our best when we love our fellow human beings in the same way we love our families.
After all, it was the Good Samaritan who crossed to the other side of the road to tend to the traveller who’d been left for dead, even though a priest and a Levite had passed him by.
Our differences don’t define our humanity. Our love does.
Stephen Sondheim understood that when you’ve got love in your heart, and someone you care for by your side, anything is possible…
There’s a place for us
A time and a place for us
Hold my hand and we’re halfway there
Hold my hand and I’ll take you there
“West Side Story” deserved all of its critical and commercial success.
It’s an epic story…artfully crafted…exceptionally choreographed…with masterful lyrics by Stephen Sondheim…and Leonard Bernstein’s score which drew on a deep classical music heritage but made it accessible to everyone in one of the greatest films of all time.
No wonder “West Side Story won 10 Oscars.
One of my favourite versions of “Somewhere” is the duet Barbra Streisand recorded a few years ago with Josh Groban. Two of the finest voices of our time give the performance of their lives…
I hope you enjoy this version of “Somewhere” as much as I do…
The video is below or, if you prefer, you can enjoy it on Spotify here…https://open.spotify.com/track/5IQeIFbjLhUXpnehNrqmMG
PS — just before we get to the video, if you enjoyed this article, please give it a “clap”…or even more than one if you’re feeling kind. You can also follow me on Medium (here) or Twitter (here) to get new articles as soon as they’re published.