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Friday, 22 June 2012

How West Side Story's Sharks and Jets can help beat London gangs

Stay cool, boy: Jets in a scene from the Sixties film version of West Side Story Pic: Getty Images
22 June 2012

West Side Story could help police tackle gang crime in London, the daughter of Leonard Bernstein, the musical’s composer, claimed today.
The classic Sixties film about feuding New York factions the Sharks and the Jets is already used, under the West Side Story Project, by forces across America and in Berlin to help officers understand and communicate with gangs.

Jamie Bernstein, whose father wrote the score to the 1957 musical and the subsequent film, said the project, which uses the plot as a point of reference, would be “ideal” for London.

It involves gang prevention workshops, dramatic role reversals with officers and theatre games designed to “reduce cultural conflict”.

The musical is inspired by “the original gang story” Romeo and Juliet. Jamie said: “The music and the themes in the film still have an amazing power 50 years on.

“In the project, the film is being used as a way for police departments to better understand and communicate with gangs, and it has been rolled out across the US with some great success.

“It has been all over including Seattle, Los Angeles and New York, and we even recently took it to Berlin. It would be ideal for London and it is definitely something that we’d like to look into further.”

Her comments come as the film’s 50th anniversary is

celebrated through a series of screenings with live orchestral accompaniments. It will be shown at the Royal Albert Hall this weekend, with the score performed by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.

Jamie — who was five when her father, who died in 1990, wrote the score — said: “This new way of seeing the film is incredibly exciting. I don’t fully understand the technology behind it, but they were able to remove the score from the film while keeping the dialogue and sound effects. It’s magic really. I can see that as we pull away from the 20th century, my father’s music just sounds better and better. It’s a terrific movie.

“The combination of the music and dance are both so powerful. And the story itself never goes out of style.”

West Side Story is showing at the Royal Albert Hall from tonight until Sunday. Tickets cost £25-£65.

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