Story: 50th Anniversary Edition
Arguably the best musical in movie history turns 50 this year. The
anniversary is being celebrated with a new special Blu-Ray edition as well
as a limited theatrical release.
However, 50 years in a long time. Does West Side Story still hold
sure, there are some technical problems that probably only get exacerbated
by the hi-def release – a lot of the character makeup is distractingly
orange now – but West Side Story has aged about as well as any film
of its vintage can claim.
course, much of that stems from the source material, which is as close to
perfect as can be.
West Side Story
was based on a
then fairly current (and not overly popular) Broadway musical of the same
name. The musical itself was not-so-loosely based on Shakespeare’s Romeo
and Juliet – the story of star-crossed lovers Tony and Maria in the
gang-ridden neighborhoods of New York’s upper west side.
is an Italian boy. She is a Puerto Rican girl. Their families and friends
are constantly fighting. Can love at first sight survive this toxic
course it can’t, exactly, but West Side Story tells its alternately
touching, funny and ultimately tragic story with some of the greatest songs
of the 20th Century. Unlike most current musicals, where maybe one or two
songs becomes a classic, just about every song in West Side Story is
a standard. Those songs include such favorites and “Somewhere,” “Maria,” “I
Feel Pretty,” “America,” “Tonight, Tonight,” “The Jet Song,” “Cool” and
others. In fact, most of the songs on the soundtrack have been performed on
the current season of Glee, showing their continuing relevance.
nearly perfect musical accompaniment, some wonderfully modern choreography
(if you ever wondered where the dancing knife-fight in Michael Jackson’s
“Beat It” came from, this is the place) and a surprisingly heartfelt story,
West Side Story hits on all cylinders.
is fun to find some old Hollywood hands here in the background. Simon
Oakland (Kolchak: the Night Stalker) plays a bigoted cop and future
Addams Family patriarch John Astin has a memorable bit-part as a
dweeby teacher. Best of the old guard is great old character actor Ned
Glass – who was as good as anyone in Hollywood at playing frustrated
middle-aged Jewish guys – as Tony’s understanding boss.
However, the kids were the main thrust of the film and the youthful energy
carries the load.
course the old complaint is that a young Natalie Wood didn’t look even
remotely Puerto Rican as Maria – and it may be a slightly valid complaint –
but she does just fine in the role. Also, quite a few of the other cast
members were the wrong nationality for their character – her
brother was played by George Chakiris, who was Greek, and other Puerto Rican
friends were played by Italian, French and Asian actors.
People also tend to make a big deal about Wood’s vocals being dubbed in by
the legendary Marni Nixon, who made a living doing the singing on musicals
for other actresses (she also sang Audrey Hepburn’s part in My Fair Lady,
Deborah Kerr’s in The King & I and Margaret O’Brien’s in The
Secret Garden). However, in the DVD they do show a snippet of Wood
actually singing, and while her voice was a little thin, it was actually not
bad at all. It’s no crime to be less talented a singer than Marni Nixon.
Besides, real singers in the cast – for example a young Rita Moreno as Anita
– were also dubbed for the movie. It’s just the way movie musicals were
done back then.
yet, West Side Story as a musical goes above and beyond the way that
musicals have ever been done. It deserves to be mentioned in any serious
discussions of the high point of the musical art form in Hollywood history.
Yes, it is that good. Any serious student of film who has not seen it has a
serious hole in their education and should run – not walk – to see it. Boy,
boy, crazy boy, be cool, boy…
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2011 PopEntertainment.com.
All rights reserved. Posted: November 15, 2011.