Stories based on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet are timeless. Just like those about rivalry between communities. In the 1961 film West Side Story two gangs are fighting each other to gain control over the streets in New York; a New York group and a group of boys of Puerto Rican descent. When Tony form New York meets the Puerto Rican Maria, they fall in love. This means they have to choose sides and their love has disastrous consequences.
The musical film West Side Story dates back to 1961 and is based on the musical from 1957, which is based on Williams Shakespears play The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet from 1595. The film, directed by Robert Wise (The Sound of Music), won 10 Oscars and therefore we can say this is a very successful oldie. The film received an Oscar for best film, best director, best costume and best music. Speaking of the music, West Side Story has some wonderful songs like the duet “Tonight”, written and composed by Arthur Laurents, Stephen Sondheim and Leonard Bernstein.
The leading roles are played by Natalie Wood and Richard Beymer, who play the doomed lovers Maria and Tony. They meet at a dance and immediately they have only eyes for each other. But not everyone agrees with this love. Maria is the sister of Bernardo (George Chakiris) who is the leader of the Puerto Rican gang the Sharks. The dance was the moment to challenge the New York gang the Jets for a fight. The winner would get the power on the streets. A battle where police Skid Krupke has his hands full with. Because of his love for Mario, Tony suggests that two champions of the gangs fight each other in a one-on-one competition, without weapons. On the other hand Maria is head over heels in love with Tony and tells all about it in a musical way to her friend Anita. Actress Rita Moreno plays the role of Anita, the girlfriend of Benardo and is just as musical as Maria and shows her view on Maria’s love, the city New York, the struggle between the cultures and the desire to come to America. For her performance of Anita, Moreno was nominated for both an Oscar as a Golden Globe.
The film includes multiple dialogues, but in general, the film mostly consists of songs and dances. From ballads to more swinging songs like ‘America’. This number shows how various women within the Puerto Rican culture feels about their homeland in comparison with with America. An interesting fact is that other and better singers were used to sing the songs. For example the producers thought the voice of Natalie Wood and Richard Beymer were not good enough. Therefore the duet “Tonight” between Tony and Maria is performed by Jimmy Bryant and Marni Nixon. However, this does not affect the film in any way as it is not noticeable. The songs are all sung diligently and the choreography of the dances are all perfectly performed.
The ballet-like dance steps of the men of the Jets in the intro looks brilliant, but yet it can be laughable. Even the battles look playfully because of the dances. But on the other hand, the dramatic aspect is transferred well. In 1997 the film was registered in the National Film Registry because of the historical, cultural and aesthetic interest. The film might feel out-dated, but a reboot would never be this successful because it never would have the same feeling. Also, the theme is anything but old-fashioned, and it wouldn’t be such a bad idea to give this version a bit modern feeling. But why would you ever ‘mess’ with a film who won 10 Oscars?
West Side Story is with 10 Oscars a worthy classic and a must-see for every musical fan! The music, the choreography, the theme and the actors made the film this successful. Much was asked of the dancers and various measures have been taken to get the best voice quality. The film can sometimes feel a bit dated, but the theme is still relevant. A doomed love between two people from another culture.