by Pat Cerasaro
Has Broadway ever had the pleasure to hear a better score than that of WEST SIDE STORY? Furthermore, has a better movie musical ever been made of a Broadway show? Honestly, does musical theatre get any more breathlessly exhilarating and passionately evocative as WEST SIDE STORY unquestionably is? Did Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins somehow actually improve on perfection in the original production of the show with their 1960 film version of the Shakespeare-based, modern Manhattan-set property? Well, I suppose it all depends on your point of view, but, for many Broadway babies, WEST SIDE STORY is simply as good as it gets as far as musical tragedy or musical comedy is concerned, and, for many film buffs, there are few movie musicals as potent, powerful and prescient as WEST SIDE STORY undoubtedly is in its multi-Oscar-winning film iteration. It is truly the best of both worlds for the duration of its running time, somehow managing to put across the highly theatrical storytelling techniques employed by master-directors Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins, and, also, present the realistic, rough-and-tumble life of Tony and Maria - the doomed lovers at the core of the story. More than anything else, though, it is the impossible-to-beat score for WEST SIDE STORY by Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim - along with the tight and terse Arthur Laurents book (enhanced for the film by Ernest Lehman) - that makes WEST SIDE STORY the timeless classic for the ages that it is and always will be. Name one other score that boasts as many songs etched into the very culture of America itself as this one manages to have - “Tonight”, “Maria”, “Cool”, “A Boy Like That”, “I Feel Pretty”, “America”, “Somewhere”; and the list goes on and on. It is, simply, the very best.
So, today, in honor of the forthcoming Fathom one-night-only theatrical re-release of WEST SIDE STORY in selected Fathom-equipped movie theaters nationwide on November 9, we are going to sample some of the best-loved and most memorable moments from the many sides of WEST SIDE STORY over the fifty years since the film’s original release and its original Broadway production in 1957 - and perhaps a surprise or two thrown into the mix, too! After all, when you’re a WEST SIDE STORY fan, you are a fan all the way...
The Only Thing I See - Forever
Kicking off the coolest of cool countdowns, here is the trailer for the upcoming Fathom one-night-only event - a Turner Classic Movies Presentation - which will feature the worldwide theatrical premiere of the new HD remastering of the Academy Award-winning Best Picture - and an exclusive featurette hosted by noted TCM film historian Robert Osborne, as well!
To see even more scenes from the remastered 50th Anniversary Edition of WEST SIDE STORY - out on Blu-ray on November 15, following its Fathom theatrical HD premiere on the 9th - click below.
Now, let’s take a look at the original trailer for the film version of WEST SIDE STORY and witness the unprecedented and innovative way the filmmakers and producers first presented a preview of WEST SIDE STORY - itself a completely idiosyncratic and unique entity in its own right, then and now - for the unsuspecting American public in 1960 when it was first released in movie theaters and at roadshow engagement houses across the country.
For the final of our WEST SIDE STORY film trailer selections, check out this stylishly rendered artistic imagining of plot elements and mise-en-scene from the film set to Bernstein‘s unforgettable and spine-tingling overture.
Moving forward almost twenty years, here is an entertaining television special about the 1980 Broadway revival of WEST SIDE STORY, hosted by Tom Brokaw, featuring Broadway revival lead performers Ken Marshall, Josie DeGuzman and Tony-winner Debbie Allen in performances of “Tonight”, “America” and other classics from the show in this celebratory three-part piece exhibiting the classic musical’s appeal in seemingly all eras - and amongst all generations - since its debut in 1957.
All three of these are out of sync with video and voices but they are an interesting look at Robbins' obsession with creating a visual difference between the very blond haired Jets and the facially dark Sharks
Closing out the 20th-century contingent of our countdown, here is Debbie Allen’s ferocious performance of “America” on that year’s Tony Awards, where she took top honors for her fiery and feisty Anita.
Moving to the 21st-century, let’s take a look at Tony-winning Best Featured Actress In A Musical, Karen Olivo, alongside members of the 2009 Broadway revival of WEST SIDE STORY as they perform the spicy and scintillating “America” in this performance from THE LATE SHOW WITH DAVID LETTERMAN. Caliente, indeed!
Following that, get a glimpse of the bilingual re-envisioning of the piece for the most recent Broadway revival - conducted by original book-writer and revival director Arthur Laurents; alongside original lyricist, Stephen Sondheim; and, new creative team member and Tony-winning IN THE HEIGHTS scribe (as well as this week’s InDepth InterView participant), Lin Manuel-Miranda - in this clip from the 2009 Tony Awards. Karen Olivo is joined by Josefina Scaglione, Matt Cavenaugh and the rest of the revival cast of WEST SIDE STORY in this thrilling medley of “Dance At The Gym” and “Tonight”, introduced by Lin-Manuel Miranda himself.
Next, see Diane Sawyer introduce Cody Green as Riff leading the Jets in “Cool” from the 2009 Broadway revival production of WEST SIDE STORY in this clip taken from GOOD MORNING AMERICA.
Finally, below, check out this Exclusive World Premiere that BroadwayWorld hosted a few weeks ago featuring GLEE breakout star Darren Criss taking on Tony’s titanic establishing song in the show, “Something’s Coming”, with apropos relish, enlivening energy and major superstar talent to spare! Also, be sure to check out GLEE this Tuesday for another WEST SIDE STORY musical number - the striking and dramatic female duet, "A Boy Like That"!
So, what WEST SIDE STORY song is your personal favorite? What musical number can you barely wait to see in the new HD remastered version of the movie musical (and on the new Blu-ray)? Be sure to be one of the very first to find out for yourself how great WEST SIDE STORY in HD actually is when it plays for one night only at the hundreds of Fathom-equipped movie theaters worldwide on November 9! Either way - womb to tomb; sperm to worm; forever - WEST SIDE STORY is the coolest classic movie musical of all time. Real cool.