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The unusual opening interval is a minor, ascending 7th. It fills one with aching, longing and sets up the dreamy quality of this hauntingly beautiful song. It resolves quickly and those few opening notes are instantly recognizable. Tony has just confessed to accidentally killing Maria’s brother in the heat of the rumble, but they are deeply, irrevocably in love. The chaos and hatred around them will not tear them apart. They must find a place of universal peace and harmony. That is what Bernstein and Sondheim tried to convey through melody and lyrics as the lovers seek redemption through each other.

With Jerome Robbins, rehearsing final scene, where the song is reprised, 1957

In the original 1957 Broadway show, the song was sung off-stage by a disembodied voice during a ballet sequence, showing the rival gangs coming together, foreshadowing the grouping at the tragic ending.

Here is the entire sequence (including the ballet music) from the original Broadway soundtrack. The actual song starts at 2:35 in the sequence.

https://youtu.be/ThSVej4XzQI

 

In the 1961 Academy Award winning movie, it is sung by the two lovers in her small bedroom as they make love. And in the current Spielberg remake (which I recommend), it is sung by Rita Moreno’s (new) character, an ode to her deceased, non-Puetro Rican husband, and for all couples who are trying to overcome prejudice and co-exist. Though, at the age of 89 (when she filmed the movie), she can’t sing it as the soaring ballad of the previous versions, I still found it moving.

Larry Kurt and Carol Lawrence, Tony and Maria from original Broadway production, 1957

“We’ll find a new way of living, we’ll find a way of forgiving. Somewhere.”

Though I have never used the song as an audition piece, I have sung it privately for special friends for many years; over 50. I truly love it, it moves me to tears. The haunting melody and universality of the lyrics makes it a piece worthy of all eras. It feels important during this era of divisiveness too. I never tire of it.

Someday…

Profile photo of Betsy Pfau Betsy Pfau
Retired from software sales long ago, two grown children. Theater major in college. Singer still, arts lover, involved in art museums locally (Greater Boston area). Originally from Detroit area.


Characterizations: moving, well written

Comments

  1. John Shutkin says:

    This is such a beautiful and haunting song, Betsy, and your description of it is wonderful — beginning with the note about its unusual musical opening. And what I particularly enjoyed about your story, having only seen the 1961 movie (so far), is the explaining of the completely different stagings, performers and contexts the song has been placed in. That has to be unique among musicals. Indeed, as you point out at the end, it could also well apply to our own troubling times, far removed from teenage gang fights (or are they?)

    This is one earworm I will particularly cherish. But don’t you owe it to your Retro fans to do a private recording for us, too?

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      I am happy that you liked all the history of the staging of the song, John.

      Sometimes I also feel like we are in the midst of a large “gang” fight right now, John. But only one side knows how to rumble and has Murdock’s media empire of disinformation and the 50+ years of increasingly poor education of the public behind it though. Critical thinking is for sissies. But I digress.

      Due to the pandemic, I haven’t sung in two years. Like every other muscle, my singing gets out of shape (very rapidly at this age, might I add). Sad, but true. Sorry, no personal rendition is forthcoming anytime soon.

  2. Susan Bennet says:

    Somewhere there may be a more beautifully constructed song, Betsy, but I haven’t found it. If I see the remake of WSS, I will be sure to bring tissues. Bernstein was a genius. Thank you for reminding me.

  3. Suzy says:

    Love your musical analysis at the beginning, Betsy. I remember when I was learning how to sight-sing, every interval had a song associated with it. A 4th was Here Comes the Bride, a 5th was Moon River, a 6th was My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean, and a 7th was Somewhere. As you point out, it’s a minor 7th, but maybe composers never write major 7th intervals (playing a major 7th on my piano just now, it sounds very discordant).

    I have not seen the Spielberg remake, and I’m not sure I want to, even though I love Rita Moreno. I don’t like Ansel Elgort and don’t want to see him as Tony. I guess I’ll just have to find a clip of Rita singing the song to satisfy my need to hear her do it.

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      Dan wasn’t sure he wanted to see the new version either, as he adores the original movie, but this got really good reviews. It opened on my birthday when we were in London. We went to a matinée with masks on (sparsely attended) and is coming to Disney+ soon. The new Anita is Oscar-nominated and terrific. I also loved the new Maria. Dan liked the new Riff as well, but didn’t love it as much as the 1961 version, which holds up well. But I did like this one quite a bit.

      Like you, I learned intervals thinking about well-known songs (like a 4th is “Here Comes the Bride”, etc). But the minor 7th of “Somewhere” I find hauntingly beautiful. Hope you can find that clip of Rita Moreno. I confess, I got my mask wet with my tears.

  4. Marian says:

    This song can be considered a classic, Betsy, and is both timely and timeless. Appreciate your insights, recapping of the movies and play, and the musical analysis. The song will carry me through the rest of the day.

  5. Khati Hendry says:

    May we all find that “somewhere” that we long for! That song is indeed moving, and thanks for all the background information. And thanks to Suzy for including the tips on music intervals—I didn’t get past eighth grade music class, and never learned those. Now I’m humming “Here comes the Bride” though.

  6. Having seen the original movie at least three times and then wearing out the sound track album, I was already a fan of the song, but it wasn’t until I heard it sung by Barbra Streisand that I really fell in love with it. Kudos to you, Betsy, for having such a powerful song in your wheelhouse. I hope you’ll be able to sing it again some day!

  7. Dave Ventre says:

    I admire people who can hear a song and know that its “opening interval is a minor, ascending 7th.” Beyond Do-Re-Mi, music theory is akin to quantum theory!

  8. Laurie Levy says:

    Amen, Betsy … someday. Such a beautiful song that seems especially relevant now. I’m jealous that you saw the new WSS movie. The movie theaters near us closed, although another company bought them, so there’s hope.

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      The film is coming to Disney+ soon. I know…we can only subscribe to so many streaming services, but sometimes, we’ll sign up just for a month so we see something that we really want to see (we did that in order to see Hamilton, which was also on Disney+, then cancelled, though we signed up again to see the Beatles documentary, and now find other offerings that we enjoy – they always find a way to hook you).

  9. Thanx Betsy for reminding us of this brilliant show and all its wonderful songs. Years ago I had a friend who was writing her doctorate on Leonard Bernstein and shared much she was learning about him and his genius.

    I haven’t yet seen the current film revival, but of course won’t miss it!

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      I think the combination of Bernstein and Sondheim created the immortal West Side Story together. The new version is worth seeing, Dana, even for us die-hard fans of the original.

      • Thanx Bets, will definitely see it.

        We did see the controversial Bway production in Feb 2020 – in fact it was probably the last show we saw pre-Covid.
        I didn’t like the video stuff , but did like the chemistry between the lovers.
        And no production however bad can ruin the story and the glorious songs!

  10. Jim Willis says:

    Betsy, what a good musical analysis of “Somewhere,” this is. I also found the background of the performances interesting. We just caught the original movie a few weeks ago. Haven’t seen the new version, but it’s hard to imagine it can top the original!

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      Thank you, Jim. I confess, we caught the original on TV about a week after seeing the new version. My husband still thought it was better. It holds up well (the opening sequence is BRILLIANT)! My brother (who knows EVERYTHING) said Jerome Robbins was such a perfectionist that after that sequence, which he shot over and over again so it ran way over budget, was fired from the film, but there were enough dancers from the original stage version that they were able to recreate his choreography without him being around. That helps to explain its brilliance.

  11. My arms are covered with goosebumps. Thanks for that… and your analysis of the song and its context brought that amazing musical into focus. At the risk of sounding ridiculous, Shakespeare, Bernstein, Sondheim, and the power of tragedy in any era just clobbered me in the best possible way. Thanks for the heartache, Betsy!

    BTW: Great interview with Sondheim in the New Yorker:
    https://www.newyorker.com/culture/the-new-yorker-interview/stephen-sondheim-final-interviews

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      Ah, the power of tragedy to move us, Charles. At the risk of being simple, I’ve said before that I find “Romeo and Juliet” the greatest play in the English language (because I always wanted to play Juliet of course), so it isn’t surprising that I would so love “West Side Story” in all its variations. (As butchered as the 1968 Zeffirelli version was, I absolutely adored it; the leads were gorgeous, as were the settings and costumes. It appealed to my young heart in the same way that Baz Luhrmann’s 1996 version did for that generation. I resisted seeing it for a long time, but when I did watch it, I found it not half bad.)

      Thanks for passing along the Sondheim interview. I saw it come through today in a daily email I receive from The New Yorker (since I don’t subscribe, I’m allowed to read 5 articles/month; I saved today’s email so I could read that one). Your recommendation makes it even more worthwhile. I’ll save it for the two-hour wait on Wednesday. We are returning to London to visit Rosa – now almost 8 weeks old!

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