As the days grow short this September, I’m looking at a calendar that notes milestones every month. Do you know what happened this past Thursday, Sept. 26, in 1957?

“West Side Story,” with music by Leonard Bernstein, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and choreography by Jerome Robbins, opened on Broadway on that date. I knew about it but somehow the anniversary date slipped my mind. Mental block, maybe.

Several hours before the curtain went up, my husband Skeeter and I were standing in front of the theater, gazing at the posters. For one brief time, on that morning, we could have gotten tickets. On the morning after, forget it. “West Side Story” became such a sensation that tickets were an impossible dream at least for a year.

For many years after, Skeeter enjoyed joking about my hasty decision to nix “West Side Story.” He’d tell friends, “Did y’all know we could have gotten tickets but Wanda didn’t think it would be any good?”

Taking a close look at the signs out front, I really did say something like, “Nah. Let’s pass on this one.”

Instead, based on my recommendation, the next afternoon we saw “Damn Yankees,” a limp matinee performance that could have been phoned in. It lacked, shall we say, enthusiasm.

One thing would have changed my mind about “West Side Story.” If I had read the names of chorus members, I would have said “Yes!”  I didn’t realize that Bobby Thompson was one of the dancers.

I’d known Bobby all my life. The Thompson family lived in old Baytown, first on Indiana Street, later on Utah, and Bobby graduated in my class at Robert E. Lee High School. As a teen-ager he had a dance partner, Marian Williams, and they performed on talent shows in town.

Finally, I did get to see Bobby dance in “West Side Story” in the film version. I also recognized him in the chorus in other movies, including “Hello Dolly,” directed by Gene Kelly, and “Sweet Charity,” directed by Bob Fosse.

Bobby’s main claim to fame was as a choreographer. He directed dance numbers for an Academy Awards show several years ago and was the assistant choreographer for the film, “Xanadu.” He choreographed numerous TV shows, including specials featuring The Carpenters, The Captain and Tennille and Hollywood Palace.

Back to “West Side Story.” I’ve seen local stage productions in addition to the film, and though I love its glorious musical score, it’s not one of my favorite shows. The story line is depressing, and I hate the violence.

However, that’s just my opinion. When it comes to “West Side Story,” keep in mind that I don’t always make the right calls.


Wanda Orton is a retired managing editor of The Sun. She can be reached at viewpoints@baytownsun.com, Attention: Wanda Orton.

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