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The Hollywood Bowl became, as it occasionally does, a big cinema Friday night. Fifty years after "West Side Story" was first shown at Grauman's Chinese Theatre down the road, the film had a new "premiere." This time the orchestral score was digitally removed from the sound track and replaced by a live orchestra.

David Newman conducted the Los Angeles Philharmonic skillfully and excitingly. An avid crowd of nearly 10,000 applauded the dance sequences, which were newly thrilling. The loudest cheers, though, were heard when Leonard Bernstein's name was shown, in graffiti scrawl, on the end credits.

He (Bernstein) conducted rarely at the Bowl, although a 1955 appearance led to his conceiving the concept of "West Side Story" with Arthur Laurents, who wrote the book. And in 1982, Bernstein conducted a transcendental performance of the "West Side Story" Symphonic Dances at the Bowl with the L.A. Philharmonic (which they recorded).
Seeing the film (which will be repeated Saturday night) at the Bowl with a live orchestra is an intriguingly odd experience. A large screen suspended over the shell was not quite large enough to do full justice to a movie shot in Panavision 70. It had to be letterboxed but the new HD transfer looked great. Eight small monitors were on the lip of the stage for the folks in the most expensive seats (who basically had the experience of watching the film on television). The side video screens were also employed, which meant from my vantage at the rear of the boxes, I could see it on 11 different-sized screens.

The original soundtrack sounded boomy and unnatural, spoken and sung voices had different characteristics, and mixing in the live orchestra, which was also amplified, was an ongoing balancing act. And Newman's job was not to interpret but to follow, which he did convincingly. He is an enthusiastic, jazzy conductor, and he was able to produce quite a bit of excitement along the way.

 



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