'West Side Story' Dancers Celebrate Film's 50th Anniversary
By Jessica Gardner
The film version of "West Side Story" marked its 50th anniversary in 2011. The beloved screen transfer of the legendary Broadway musical won 10 Oscars in 1961, including best picture and best director for Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins. AFI ranks it number 41 on its list of 100 greatest American movies, and it ranks number two on AFI's greatest movie musicals list. In 1997, the film was chosen for preservation in the National Film Registry for being deemed "culturally significant" by the U.S. Library of Congress.
In the film, dance is as important as Stephen Sondheim's lyrics and Leonard Bernstein's music. The dancers are front and center, acting— through Robbins' difficult, stylized, and emotional choreography—the story of a modern Romeo and Juliet torn apart by gang warfare. Not much is known, however, about the amazing actor-dancers who played the Jets and the Sharks. Some of them were not even listed in the film's credits.
Robert Banas and Tony Mordente, who played the Jet gang members Joyboy and Action, had the idea to put together a memoir of the "West Side" actor-dancers. "Our Story—Jets & Sharks—Then and Now" covers their auditions, their filming experience, and how the film influenced their lives and careers. The book was released in 2011 to mark the film's half-century celebration, as was a three-disc Blu-ray DVD.( Collapse )