The Curse of Reinvention
The lasting legacy of Shakespeare isn’t necessarily his choice of words, it is his structure of stories. Stories which have gone on to influence everything from Grammy Award winning pop music hits to Academy Award winning movies and Tony Award winning Best Musicals as they have been reinterpreted. While these reinterpretations are highly acclaimed, these universal stories need to be constantly reinterpreted to continue to hold the same meaning to society as this latest revamp of ‘Cool’ from West Side Story shows.
Shakespeare is a funny medium to work with. To watch his plays in a traditional setting as they would have seen in their premiere leaves the audience with a resonant message in a vehicle which feels staid and old-fashioned. But this applies to more than just his original plays, it applies to reinterpretations of his work. In order to do justice to these universal messages, the vehicle in which they are presented must always be contemporary.
Take Romeo & Juliet for example. The original play itself still holds meaning in today’s society. But it isn’t at its most resonant until it is placed in a contemporary setting. West Side Story brought this story into contemporary significance during the late-50s/early-60s by resetting the narrative within the current climate of racially-motivated violence in New York. The Baz Luhrmann movie adaptation updated the narrative to fit in with the current environment and became a box office hit. While the original play still has its lessons, placing it within a contemporary setting adds a lot more to the story and allows it to resonate with a much wider audience.
And that brings us to the present day. Los York, an advertising agency from California, has embarked on a passion project to reset one of the famous dance based numbers from West Side Story, ‘Cool’, in a setting much more relevant to the social divides of today. It shows that those pieces of entertainment based upon Shakespeare have the same curse as his original plays. In order to maintain the broadest relevance, they also need to continue to reinvent themselves and move into a contemporary setting. Within the context of current American racial issues, watch this new version entitled ‘Chill’ and see if it doesn’t contain a more resonant message than the original West Side Story’s ‘Cool’.