Disclaimer: This will be a West Side Story appreciation post. Do not read on if you’re looking for a bashing site. Thank you.
A couple of years ago, when it was announced that Steven Spielberg was going to remake West Side Story, I had the same reaction as everyone else: Do not mess with this classic! Why???? Not this!, etc. etc. Well, here we are – after a one year delay, Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story is now playing to accolades its rating on IMDB is even higher than the 1961 original film.*
So much has been written and said about the remake, and I agree with the positive reviews. This film has its own personality. It stood on its own, using the fundamentals of the Jerome Robbins classic and making itself a new masterpiece that that reached into a new breed of audience. There’s a lot of good things going on in this film – and while it is grimy, dirty, and disturbing, it managed to look beautiful on screen.
I will do my very best not to compare the two versions as I don’t want to take away anything from both – as both are truly great works of art that needs to be appreciated separately. Having said that, I will post my thoughts on Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story track by track.
Prologue. Pretty much set the mood for the movie. Ruins, mess, dirt, and absolutely fantastic dancing courtesy of Justin Peck’s choreography, inspired by Jerome Robbins. The Sharks and The Jets are not only dance fighting, there is actual stunts and realistic fighting. These ones you won’t want to be in the middle of.
La Borinquena. A very quick song that relayed Puerto Rican pride. It’s a nice touch.
Jet Song. Mike Faist and the ensemble gave a very wonderful rendition of this (for me) official first number of the show.
Something’s Coming. It’s unfortunate that my low element in the movie is Ansel Elgort, who plays the male lead, Tony. While I can’t deny that he can sing well, I feel the role did not suit him well as there seemed to be some awkwardness happening, whenever he is on screen. He does look like leading man material but for some reason I cannot explain, I thought he didn’t work well. Maybe he was too good looking? Looking way more squeaky clean amongst the backdrop and his fellow Jets?
The Dance at the Gym: Blues, Promenade. This and the next two are my highly anticipated scenes and numbers as I have watched this endlessly through the years and thankfully, it did not disappoint. Saying it again, it honored Jerome Robbins’ work in a way that it also made it its own.
The Dance at the Gym: Mambo. See above. And to add, I love how this beautifully showcased Anita’s (played by Ariana deBose) fire. Choreography once again, is impeccable, and the angles used made for more excitement.
The Dance at the Gym: Cha Cha, Meeting Scene, Jump. I wondered how this will be executed and was pleased that it took a different approach. It went a little cringe when Elgort did that short dance with Rachel Zegler (as Maria) probably because of his height – sorry, I really cannot figure out why he’s so awkward and cringey.
Maria. This is where Mr. Elgort’s Tony started to redeem him self in my eyes. Beautifully sang, beautifully executed. If someone was stalking me in this manner, I’m in.
Balcony Scene (Tonight). Very haunting. Rachel Zegler’s voice is very beautiful. Chemistry is so-so but they made it work. I like it.
Transition to Scherzo/ Scherzo. I felt this was unnecessarily long. Could have been a thirty second scene.
America. What a showstopper! I love how they utilized the ensemble to make this more festive and celebratory for the neighbourhood rather than confining the longing to a small group. A real visual feast!
Gee, Officer Krupke. Another show stopping number that smartly utilized props to tell the story. My only complaint is that Brian d’Darcy James, who plays the track’s titular officer, should have been utilized in this number. Being a Broadway legend, Mr. Spielberg could have made something work to showcase Mr. James’ talent.
One Hand, One Heart. Slowing down here and, as with previous iterations, this one is cringe for me. Beautifully sung, though, and moving on…
Cool. I like the way this was presented. More of a confrontation between Riff and Tony rather than an encouragement, as was the original version. I especially like the cinematography in this number, too.
Tonight (Quintet). All I can say about this number is that it is hair raising. I’m a sucker for either choreography or orchestrations, specifically featuring the wind instruments, and the way they surrounded the theater just gave me goose bumps, more so than The Dance at the Gym series for some reason.
The Rumble. Cinematography and orchestrations are fantastic on this one.
I Feel Pretty. I appreciated this number as it gives us a break from the darkness of what happened in the rumble (on stage, this is the second act opening). The bright colours and joyous atmosphere is a good contrast to everything that is happening, and bringing this to a different setting made for good cinema. As with Brian d’Arcy James, Andrea Burns was underutilized, too, and I wish this wasn’t the case.
Somewhere. The creation of a brand new character, Valentina, initially came across as total fan service by casting Rita Moreno, 1961’s Anita. I’m happy to see how it was handled, because Mr. Spielberg didn’t just give her a cameo, she was given an integral part in the movie. Giving her the signature song was a nice touch, too, and it didn’t come across as forced. And as for Anybodys who lost out on this song, at least Anybodys’ role got more meat and exposure.
A Boy Like That/ I Have a Love. I really felt the trauma conveyed by both Zegler and deBose in this song, although I’ve always been amused with the fact that rage, forgiveness, empathy, and loving were all shown at a hundred miles per minute. To be honest, this has always been my least favourite song in the musical and its stayed the same for me.
Finale. Just as expected. Nothing new but still a very emotional one. Don’t forget your tissues.
In conclusion, Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story was really handled with care, and it truly did not disappoint. Here’s hoping for an Oscar for this movie because if that happens, well, history, amright?