April 2nd, 2017

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West Side Story;  A True-Blue Work of Art on both Screen and Stage:

Hi, everybody:    Here’s hoping you’re able and willing to put up with yet another diary of mine on West Side Story.

Here’s another way that West Side Story differs from most musicals,  which definitely puts it in a special class all by itself:  This fabulous musical is a true-blue work of art, on both stage and screen.   West Side Story, as everybody knows, began as a famous late-1950’s Broadway stage musical, which took off as a big hit, both nationally and internationally.  Four years after its initial debut in NYC’s now-defunct Winter Garden, as a Broadway stage play,  it was made into a creatively spectacular motion picture, after Walter Mirisch had purchased the rights to the film version<lj-cut>...

For a number of reasons, West Side Story , as a musical, is also a true-blue work of art, both on stage and on screen.  One reason is because, as a musical, West Side Story, although it’s fiction,   tackles a subject matter that’s quite intense, and is about things that have occurred in real life, through our society (the United States), and throughout the world, generally:  racial and ethnic tensions, urban gang warfare, conflict with the law, and love and romance that develops amidst all of the afore-mentioned things, and yet goes up in smoke due to all of the above-mentioned occurrences, as well.  The very story behind West Side Story is also what makes this musical a true-blue work of art, as well.

The intensely brilliant Leonard Bernstein musical score, which combines pop, Latin, jazz and classical music, and is also quite artsy in its own right, also helps make West Side Story the creative, true-blue work of art that it is.   So does the beautifully-choreographed dancing by (the late) Jerome Robbins.  This is very true on both stage and screen.  What makes the dancing so artistic, and such a huge contribution towards the creation of a wonderfully creative work of art that succeeds as a musical on both stage and screen is that so many emotions are expressed through dance in West Side Story;  exuberance, arrogance, toughness, cockiness, insolence, love,  romance roughness,  violence, death,  sadness, and a little bit of a ray of hope not only in the end, after Tony is shot by Chino, but even in the Dance at the Gym scene, there seems to be a ray of hope, as well, despite the obvious enmity and competition between the Jets and the Sharks.   So do the Jet gang whistles, and the finger-snapping that goes on at the beginning of this musical, both on stage and on screen.

The dancing in the America, Cool, the Dance at the Gym, the Prologue/Jet Song, the pre-Rumble Quintet, and the Rumble scene itself  are the most intense scenes of West Side Story, on both stage and screen, due to the most intense emotions that are expressed during those scenes/songs.  Subsequently, so is the dancing, which is also the most creative in those particular above-mentioned scenes, in both the stage play and the film version of West Side Story.  Rita Moreno, playing the role of Anita, the fiery, outspoken girlfriend of Bernardo, the Shark gang leader,  dances with an intense passion in America and The Dance at the Gym, on both stage and screen, and so does Bernardo,  who is played creatively by George Chakiris in the film, and as Riff in the original London Broadway stage production.

The Jets and Sharks, in conflict, are said to walk off with both the stage play and the film version of West Side Story, and in many ways, that’s quite true.  The dancing that expresses the continual conflict between the Jets and Sharks is the most telling of what West Side Story is really about, although the dancing in I Feel Pretty, and even the One-Hand/One Heart  scene, while a vital, integral part of the story behind West Side Story,  is not nearly as intense, because the emotions are lighter and more optimistic.  Without the scenes of the romancing Tony and Maria, the I Feel Pretty scene, and the One Hand-One Heart romance scene between Tony and Maria in the Bridal shop, there wouldn’t be a real story to  West Side Story.  The romance scenes and “I Feel Pretty”  are there, in part, to balance things off, if one gets the drift.

At the same time, however, without the warring Jets and Sharks, and the constant tensions and hostilities between them, that is intensified by the romance between Tony and Maria, ultimately resulting in a nasty War Council in Doc’s Candy Store, which in turn, leads to  a deadly showdown (i. e. the Rumble) that leads to three deaths (i. e. Riff, Bernardo and Tony),  without Lt. Schrank and Officer Krupke and Glad-hand, the social worker who presides at the Dance at the Gym scene, and the ray of hope that hints of a possible reconciliation in the end, and without Maria’s intense message, and Anita’s and Maria’s emotions in A Boy Like That/I Have a Love, or the Officer Krupke scene, or Doc’s being very philosophical, West Side Story wouldn’t be well-balanced, either, and it would’ve undoubtedly been quite dull, rather than the dynamite musical that it is, on both stage and screen.

The art that’s created, both on stage and on screen in West Side Story, is quite phenomenal in many other ways, as well.  On stage, there’ve been all kinds of creations regarding the scenery, ranging from very subtle and mostly left to the audience’s imagination, to very elaborate and spectacular.  There’s always room for different kinds of scenery on stage, as well.   The scenery in the film version, however, combines much on-location filming with scenes that were filmed on a gigantic sound stage, which was quite common back then, and they’re both seamlessly combined together, to make the scenery really believable as the rough and run-down parts of a large American City, i. e., 1950's-1960's New York City's West Side.

The orchestras on stage can vary in their ways of interpreting and playing West Side Story’s musical score, and I once saw a stage production in which, instead of an orchestra, there was somebody playing the musical score on the piano the whole time, from the Prologue all the way until the end.  It was really quite cool, and helped add a certain  uniqueness to this particular stage production.  On the screen, the orchestra, too, plays a beautifully brilliant score, as well.  I saw afew concerts where a HD version of the film version was shown, and the Boston Symphony Orchestra played a live rendition of the musical score, while the dialogue and the singing in the film version of West Side Story was kept intact.  It was really, really fun.

The costumes in West Side Story, on both stage and screen, have proved to be quite spectacular, as well.  The costumes on stage have ranged from very casual to very elaborate, fancy and spectacular.  There’s always room for very different types of costumes on stage, but in the film version,  the cast members change costumes, as well.  The lighting on stage and screen, in West Side Story are different:  The lighting on stage  has often been a bit more subtle, while the lighting in the movie a little big less subtle, but they’re both great, nonetheless.
In the film version of West Side Story,  much red is used, due to the fact that there is so much passion in this film.  It’s very fitting, since West Side Story is full of passion, and red is a hot, passionate color.   The Dance at the Gym, the pre-Rumble Quintet, and the Rumble itself are notable examples of that, as are the instances when Maria is bathed in red, and a lurid blood red appears on the fence, just prior to the rumble, and an almost blood-red sunset prior to the Rumble.  One can also see the faces of the warring Jets and Sharks become darker in color, as the anger arises, also.

Many other colors, such as purple, and yellow are used, as well, in the film version.  The Jets wore black and white striped ties and dark yellow blazers, and their girls wore light blue and orange and black costumes,  while the Sharks and their girls wore a great deal of purple, red, and pink.    On stage, people often like to create different colors for the stage, and, in many a stage production of West Side Story, much of the color is created by the stage lighting, as well.
There are advantages and disadvantages to both the stage and the film version of West Side Story.  With the stage play, there are real live people, so it’s interesting to make the effort required to  maintain the wave of communication between the audience and the actors/actresses, due to a much narrower focus.  The scenery is sometimes more subtle on stage, and much of it left to the audience’s imagination, as well.

Like all movies, the film version of West Side Story demands the audience’s attention, due to the fact that it looms up larger than life-sized on a great big, wide movie theatre screen.  Yet, it, too, is unforgettable, due to the photography and cinematography.  The Overture in the film version, turns many different colors, and the lines turn into buildings on Manhattan Island.  The Prologue is filmed at a bird’s eye view, going over the whole West Side of Manhattan, and, during the Prologue,  the photographers gradually zero in on the finger-snapping Jets, the skirmishes between the Jets and Sharks begins, only to be broken up by Lt. Schrank and Ofcr Krupke, and the Jet song is also sung.

The Cool, the America, and the Rumble scenes are darker, but passionate, nonetheless.  The Officer Krupke  scene, which is a piece of black comedy that lampoons Officer Krupke after he’s through admonishing the Jets not to cause trouble,  is also somewhat darker, and  lit up in steely blues in the film version.   So is the pre-rumble War Council that takes place in Doc’s Candy store.
The drug store and the gym in various stage productions of West Side Story look more like a gym and a drug store.

One of the things that gives the film version of West Side Story its strength and power, however, is the fact that, when it was transferred from stage to screen, it was preserved as a larger-than-life-sized piece of theatre.  This, along with the other above-mentioned reasons, is why West Side Story, as a film, as well as a stage play, is the true-blue work of art that it is.  The only real way to appreciate the film version of West Side Story for the work of art that it really is would be to view it on a great big, wide movie theatre screen.