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re: A contradiction in Sondheim's sense of rhyme and reason?
Last Edit: Chazwaza 08:55 pm EDT 08/12/22
Posted by: Chazwaza 08:32 pm EDT 08/12/22
In reply to: re: A contradiction in Sondheim's sense of rhyme and reason? - Singapore/Fling 08:22 pm EDT 08/12/22

I agree! I think it actually reveals some ego on his part (to think his lyrics are SO clever that Maria, in her first language or the new one she's learning (however you interpret the reality of the song), wouldn't be able to know them or use them effectively), and possibly a bit of inherent racism and classism, or at the very least, some patronizing on his part toward both Maria and the audience. Whether the audience sees this scene/song and thinks they are actually singing in English, using the English they know so far... or that they are only hearing it in English because it's an English-language musical, but the conceit is that they are speaking in Spanish to each other... I don't think any of the words are especially complicated or "SAT" type words that I don't believe she would know, in her first language or her second, and I think they are the kind of words one learns and is excited by when learning a new language. Also, obviously, we are not meant to think she is *actually* rhyming in the reality of the scene, just as we do not think she is actually singing a song in that moment... but it is a musical. We also aren't meant to believe the Sharks and Jets are dancing through the streets of New York. I doubt very much that Robbins was worried about choreographing them to only dance at the level they'd be up to were they taking ballet classes.

I have always suspected that he was aware of how much praise and celebration he was getting as a lyricist, which only sets him up to fail if he is seen as an infallible dramatic wordsmith... and he knew he needed to offer a sacrificial lamb that everyone knew in order to take himself down a peg to a more human craftsman level who can be "embarrassed" by early work on a huge hit show. And it was probably a smart more to do that. But to me it comes off badly that he picked this song by this character and throws her under the bus with him about how she wouldn't be able to conjure and use these words the way he has her doing because of her limited education or ability with English (assuming he thinks it's definitive to an audience that she is literally using English for this scene among only Spanish speakers). He could certainly criticize the vague half-poetic nature of the lyrics to "Maria", or what I'd call dramatically weak lyrics to the Quintet (especially Anita's part of that, which I find to be probably the weakest writing in the show).
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