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Mario Bautista, has been with the entertainment industry for more than 4 decades. He writes regular columns for People's Journal and Malaya.

Apr 30, 2021



‘WEST SIDE STORY’ is one of the most acclaimed musicals of all time, loosely based on Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet”. 

It was first staged in Broadway in 1957 and made into a film in 1961, honored with 10 Oscars including best picture, best direction, best adapted screenplay, and best supporting awards for Rita Moreno and George Chakiris. 

The American Film Institute placed it second on it's list of the greatest film Musicals of all Time, right after "Singin' In the Rain". Now, exactly 60 years later, Steven Spielberg has finished shooting its remake to be released in December. 

We can’t wait to see what changes he has made to give it a new dimension and update the 50s musical for today’s audiences.

“West Side Story” is about two warring gangs, the Sharks (consisting of Puerto Ricans) and the Jets (White Americans), who fight for control of the Upper West Side of Manhattan. 

Tony (Richard Beymer) used to be the leader of the Jets, but he left it and it’s leader now is his best friend, Riff (Russ Tamblyn). Maria (Natalie Wood) is the younger sister of Bernardo (George Chakiris), the leader of the Sharks, and she just arrived in America. 

In their neighborhood dance, Tony and Maria meet each other and it’s love at first sight. But you know it’s a doomed romance since they belong to rival gangs and Maria has already been compromised in an arranged marriage with Chino, Bernardo’s Chicano friend. 

We all know that “Romeo and Juliet” is a tragedy and this musical doesn’t stray away from that sad ending. 

“West Side Story” has stood the test of time and is now considered a classic. 

Its fabulous integration of story, music, song and dance is both theatrical and cinematic. Many of its songs, with catchy music by Leonard Bernstein and expressive lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, have become standard faves, 

like “Somewhere”, “Tonight”, “Maria”, “One Hand One Heart”, “I Feel Pretty”, “America”, and they’ve been recorded by various popular singers through the years in different styles and instrumentations.

The show continues to be revived and staged in various countries and is a favorite in high school presentations and community theaters. The 1961 film is produced by Robert Wise, who also co-directed it with choreographer Jerome Robbins. 

We first saw it when we were in college and now, we just got to see it again in its restored bluray version. 

It awed us then, right from the opening scene showing an aerial tour of Manhattan island. And, although we now feel some scenes can be re-edited for faster-pacing, 

it remains dazzling with its splendid color cinematography (thrilling camera work in the beautifully staged dance sequences), great production design, and the dance moves that are just dazzling and blending seamlessly into the story. 

The musical also carries a valid message about racial prejudice. This is typified by a line in the song “America” which says “Life is all right in America, If you’re all white in America.” 

It also imparts some serious comments about delinquent gangs, their destructive bitterness against each other and the hatred they feel against society in general, as terrifically conveyed in the hilariously satirical song “Gee, Officer Krupke”. 

The cast is uniformly competent. Natalie Wood and Richard Beymer are entrancingly convincing as the star-crossed lovers (they have their own balcony scene), although they just lipsynched their songs. 

Natalie as Maria uses the voice of Marni Nixon, the American soprano who also substituted for Audrey Hepburn as Eliza Dolittle in “My Fair Lady” and Deborah Kerr as Anna in “The King and I”. 

Tamblyn as Riff particularly impresses with his acrobatic moves while Chakiris as Bernardo invest his role with so much intensity, both the acting and the dancing. 

Rita Moreno as Anita, Bernardo’s fiery Latina girlfriend, is a stand out in that scene where the Jets manhandle her and she shouts that Maria is dead. 

She’s passionate in her acting and her singing and dancing, particularly in the “America” rooftop production number that compares the virtues of living in the U.S. with their life in native Puerto Rican homeland. 

The final sequence at the playground after the rumble where a lead character dies remains very powerful, specially with the reprise of the song “Somewhere”.