It's an adventure. A train through Brooklyn out to the edges of Ridgewood in Queens, then a bus to Maspeth, to an industrial neighborhood, through corrugated tin gates to an old glass factory. The Knockdown Center. As simple sign outside lets you know you've come to a show.
Song lyrics and pictures and maps of Somewhere Project activity adorn the walls. Brown Rice Family, a world music dance band plays a pre-show set. The audience surrounds a platform constructed as a section of highway, dotted lines and all. The lights go down, and West Side Story begins. Here are some excerpts from the invited dress last Thursday.
All year at Carnegie Hall, we have been investigating the song "Somewhere." We have done countless performances of the song. We have analyzed it and used phrases from the lyric as launching pads for new songs. A piece in the New York Times today describes some of its resonance for us and our community collaborators. It is a classic American song, and while we plumb its depths for inspiration, we should not forget where "Somewhere" comes from.
Tonight many of us will have the chance to see the show, West Side Story, at the Knockdown Center in Queens. "Somewhere" is a song with great universal qualities, but it was born in a specific dramatic context. In the Robert Wise Hollywood film, "Somewhere" is a romantic duet between Tony and Maria, but that was not its original function. In the Jerome Robbins Broadway show, "Somewhere" is a dream ballet, sung by a single soprano voice, a moment of escape after the harrowing double murder that occurs at the end of the first act. It serves to suspend time, to imagine a better place in the midst of violence and the inevitable revenge and punishment to come. It is a fragile wisp of a song, just shy of two minutes of stage time, and it does not end, but resists harmonic resolution. Instead it leads to the barreling return of reality, plunging us back into the drama, which cannot hold off Shakespeare's original tragic conclusion much longer.
A principal innovation of this production was to investigate the idea that "Somewhere" is a song that we can all imagine ourselves singing - so much that we thought: why not have 200 high school students take the part of that lone soprano? I am excited to see how it goes on our opening night!