By John Schilling
Throughout the semester, the Puerto Rican and Latino Studies Department (PRLS) at Brooklyn College will present “West Side Story: The Brooklyn Connection,” an educational lecture series focused on “West Side Story,” the famous play and film that showcases an ongoing turf war between the Jets and Sharks in New York City during the 1950s.
“West Side Story” is a household name in Hollywood and across the theater world, having originally opened in 1957 with a book by Arthur Laurents, music by Leonard Bernstein, and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. The original film, which was released in 1961, amassed high praise with 10 Academy Award wins, and the story will be re-visualized this coming December when a new version directed by Steven Spielberg will hit theaters.
The lecture series runs in tandem with the course “PRLS.2105: New York Latinx Culture & the Arts,” that meets Mondays and Wednesdays from 11 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. over Zoom. The lectures are moderated by Associate Professor María Pérez y González, the deputy chairperson of the Puerto Rican and Latino Studies Department.
“The course explores the artistic and cultural impact of ‘West Side Story’ through the lenses of the humanities and social sciences, highlighting Puerto Rico’s history with the United States, immigration, ethno-racial relations, gender, gangs, language, music, character analysis, and more,” Brooklyn College’s Media Relations Manager Rich Pietras released in a statement.
The first lecture of the series took place on Wednesday, Sept. 1 with Professor Emerita Virginia Sánchez Korrol, who served as the chairperson of the Puerto Rican and Latino Studies Department from 1989 to 2004. For the series, she has served as a historical consultant, focusing on how the history of Puerto Rican immigration to the United States could have been beneficial or detrimental to the original film version of West Side Story when it was released in 1961.
The next guest on the list is Bobby Sanabria, the composer and percussionist responsible for the “West Side Story Reimagined” album released in 2018, who will offer a lecture on Sept. 20. The other guests with planned lectures include Tony Kushner, who wrote the screenplay for the 2021 film version, on Sept. 29; Ernesto Acevedo Muñoz, the author of “West Side Story as Cinema: The Making and Impact of an American Masterpiece,” on Oct. 13; Professor Juan González, a journalist and the author of “Harvest of Empire: A History of Latinos in America,” on Oct. 27; Victor Cruz, an actor who plays the shopkeeper in the 2021 film, on Nov. 3; and Jeanine Tesori, a composer who worked as a voice coach for the 2021 film, on Dec. 6.
Since the news of the lecture series, there have been whispers that Steven Spielberg, the director of the 2021 film, may also be a featured guest, but there is no set date as of this moment, and it is unclear if this will come to fruition.
“We are thrilled to have organized this lecture series of special guests connected with the film to share their expertise, experiences, and insight for students as they move through the socio-historic background and artistry of ‘West Side Story,’” Dr. Pérez y González released in a statement. “We are excited to invite our extended Brooklyn College community, including the School of Humanities and Social Sciences, the School of Visual, Media, and Performing Arts, alumni, and the general public to these free lectures.”
Dr. María Pérez y González and PRLS College Office Assistant Matilda Nistal did not respond to The Vanguard’s request for comment in time for printing.