“One Hand, One Heart” from West Side Story

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            Bernstein's position as one of the great conductors of the twentieth century, his facility as teacher, skill as a pianist, charm as a television personality, and, of course as a wonderful composer, left behind a legacy equaled by few.  And while he worked assiduously as a composer of  “serious” music, there is no doubt that his greatest compositions were in American popular theatre.  His natural talent there was prodigious, and he began early.  At twenty-six, his On the Town opened on Broadway.  Wonderful Town, Peter Pan, Facsimile, Candide, and, of course, West Side Story, followed in succession.

            Opening on Broadway in 1957, and set in New York City on the Upper West Side, the story replaces Shakespeare’s Montagues and Capulets with the gangs, Jets and Sharks.  Tony, a former member of the Jets, has fallen in love with Maria, the sister of the Puerto Rican Sharks.  This impossible and tragic situation develops against the backdrop of an impending rumble between the rival gangs, and the “star-crossed” lovers are caught in the crossfire.  Maria works in a bridal shop, and when Tony comes to tell he that he will try to stop the fight, they dream of their wedding with “One Hand, One Heart.”

            In the original Broadway production the rôle of Maria was sung by Carol Lawrence, and that of Tony, by Larry Kert.   In the stunningly successful film version of 1961, the part of Maria (Natalie Wood) was dubbed in by the immortal Marni Nixon, and that of Tony by Jimmy Bryant.  Nixon, of course, was one of America’s greatest singers, dubbing tracks anonymously in almost every film musical that one can think of—including The King and I, My Fair Lady, The Sound of Music and others.   She could sing anything and did, from opera, the music of Arnold Schoenberg, to “ghost singing” in the films, Mary Poppins, An Affair to Remember, and Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.  So when you hear this lovely duet, think not of Natalie, but of Marni—the greatest singer most have not heard of.

--Wm. E. Runyan

© 2018 William E. Runyan