Saturday, January 25, 2014

West Side Story (1961)

I practically never comment on musicals (this doesn't mean I don't watch them), but today I felt like revisiting the emblematic West Side Story, as seen by Jerome Robbins and Robert Wise. They had a great soundtrack to work with, as well as a great cast, including Natalie Wood on the principal role of Maria, and then of course Rita Moreno and George Chakiris (son of Greek immigrants), who both won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor.

The sole reason I go crazy over watching clips on YouTube and sobbing all afternoon is my recent viewing of West Side Story at the Grand Theatre in Luxembourg. All in all not a bad production; I like the costumes, the dancing and choreographies. The cast was oh-so-vigorous and Maria and Tony were good in singing. But, singing, acting and dancing all at the same time is not an easy thing, this is taken for granted; no one to blame, it's just the way it is. No matter how moving the show was, for its charm and tearful storyline, the orchestra could not keep the burden of the excellent Sondheim lyrics and Bernstein score on its shoulder. It would need better chorale and individual singing to uplift our ears, but that will be for next time.

Thirsty for the real thing, I start to appreciate the singing in the film version of the West Side Story, where, in fact, the singing voices do not belong to the actors on screen. Jimmy Bryant is the singing voice for Tony, Marni Nixon is Maria, Betty Wand is Anita and so on so forth (I have to thank them for making the film experience complete). A mix of frank and sensitive music and lyrics -my favourites songs are definitely Maria and Tonight-, but also playful and ironic songs like America and Officer Krupke make this film truly enjoyable (even if I heard that some people find it a tad too long and occasionally boring). The set, the colours, everything is pleasant, just to leave us with a bitter feeling for the lost romance.

A modern take on Romeo and Juliet, which boasts a moving balcony scene of its own, West Side Story plays with themes of immigration, racism, juvenile delinquency or else the common phenomenon of street gangs and makes something beautiful out of them. But, sad, still. Love is only good when it flourishes, after all.

We all know the storyline: Maria and Tony come from different backgrounds, nobody accepts their bonding, the Sharks and the Jets are some silly dangerous kids that like playing with guns and knives; there is even a strange belief, the infamous stick-to-your-own-kind. Jesus Christ, strange stuff to say the least. It saddens me to see that we're not much better half a century later.

 * Glee covers of West Side Song are also cool. Why not give them a try.

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