A new adaptation of the 1957 stage musical, focusing on the forbidden love story between Maria and Tony who belong on opposite sides of the rivalry between the Jets and the Sharks, which is massively due to the different ethnic backgrounds of the groups.
West Side Story is based on the stage musical that has some of the greatest musical theatre songs ever written, with a truly exceptional score and lyrics that match. Making another film version was always going to be a massive task and one that Steven Spielberg worked his wonders with, as this is a truly outstanding movie musical.
Obviously the story follows that of Romeo and Juliet, so it is essential the musical version of that. I mean we all know how it’s going to end right? That is pretty much spot on really but that did not stop any of the my enjoyment for the film. I totally loved the way it was all put together.
From the opening scene with the prologue and the Jets and Sharks having a dance off which turned into a small fight was rather breathtaking in all honesty, the choreography was just wonderful to see and from that moment I knew we were in safe hands for how the rest of the film was going to look and feel. I actually kept forgetting which songs were to come next and it really does have an incredible selection Maria, Tonight, America, I Feel Pretty and Somewhere being the most well known.
The performances were essential for this to all work and in particular the casting of Tony and Maria. I was a little bit dubious about Ansel Elgort but he was very very good as Tony and felt very well as the young man attempting to not get sucked back into his past mistakes and wanting to keep away, although falling in love with Maria would stretch those limits. Rachel Zegler in her film debut having played the role of Maria on stage really did mange to light up the screen and bring the innocence required for the role, and having very good chemistry with Elgort.
Ariana DeBose was another standout performance and was such a joy each and every time she appeared on screen. I was also impressed with David Alvarez as Bernardo as well, I felt as though he gave it his all and was a very good match going head to head with Mike Faist’s Riff. Rita Moreno, was in a role which was newly created for the film and what a great idea to have her as Doc’s widow. Seriously having her involved in the film was a total bonus. Another notable addition was a Anybodys as a nod to the transgender community, which has led to the film being banned in a few countries.
The emotional trauma of the storylines and the songs still packs such a punch, hence how it still manages to work in 2021, the fact behind all of the fighting that those gangs are actually all very similar and lacking real love behind them and a sense of belonging. I think that is something that is still very much in society in different places which highlights that we have never really known how to help those who think fighting is the only possible outcome to solve anything. Still hearing “stick to your own kind” is that something that people still think should be done as well? That raises an interesting discussion if nothing else.
Believe it or not with my huge love for musicals I actually only watched the 1961 film back in August this year! I am not really sure why I never got round to watching it considering it is often regarded as the greatest film musical of all time, although maybe that hype was always going to be tough to live up to? That’s a possibility of course, obviously I knew the majority of the songs anyway as let’s face it they are outstanding alone and away from the whole piece.
Did I know how it was going to end? Yes. Did that stop me from crying? Absolutely not. I feel that is the biggest piece of praise really in the way everything was put together. The musical numbers looked very fitting of a Broadway stage and transferred so effortlessly to the screen.