West Side Story
Directed by Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins
Written by Ernest Lehman from the musical play by Arthur Laurents and Jerome Robbins; lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
The Mirisch Corporation/Seven Arts Productions
Repeat viewing/Netflix rental
One of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die
This movie was made for musical comedy/ballet/opera geeks like me and I love it.
This is famously Romeo and Juliet updated to reflect gang life in New York City. The Montagues and Capulets are replaced by the Jets, a gang of working class “white” teenagers, and the Sharks, a gang of Puerto Rican immigrants. Tony (Richard Behmer), who is trying to go straight after having been leader of the Jets, falls in love with Maria (Natalie Wood), the sister of Bernardo (George Chakiris) the leader of the Sharks. The Jets and the Sharks are already locked in gang warfare and the attentions of Tony to Maria only escalate matters.
The feud leads to tragedy of Shakespearean proportions. With Chita Rivera as Bernardo’s girlfriend and Russ Tamblyn as Riff, Tony’s friend and new leader of the Jets.
I assisted the director of my high school production of West Side Story and it has a special place in my heart. But besides nostalgia, I continue to think that the music is some of the best ever written for the stage. Bernstein’s score gives me chills in places. I can see how some might find all the pointy toed dancing by gang members and their girls ludicrous but I just sit back and enjoy it. Rita Moreno absolutely deserved her Academy Award even if George Chakiris remains a puzzlement. Highly recommended to others like me.
The Blu-Ray that came in the mail contained a song-specific commentary by Stephen Sondheim that I ate up.
West Side Story won ten Academy Awards – Best Picture; Best Supporting Actor; Best Supporting Actress; Best Director; Best Cinematography, Color; Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Color; Best Costume Design, Color; Best Sound; Best Film Editing; and Best Music, Scoring of a Musical Picture. It was nominated for Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium.