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'West Side Story': Why a Steven Spielberg remake could work

By Erin Strecker

Naya Rivera, get your agent on the phone.

Yesterday, we learned that Fox has unlocked West Side Story for a possible remake — because Steven Spielberg, of all people, has expressed interest in directing a new version.

Since making movies based on beloved stage shows like Les Misérables and Into The Woods is “in” again — something I wholeheartedly encourage — it makes sense that Spielberg might want to try his hand at directing a musical. But it’s surprising to hear that he’s interested in something that already has such a prestigious history: The original West Side Story film is as close to a sacred cow as movie musicals get. The stage show debuted on Broadway in 1957; the legendary film, starring Natalie Wood and Richard Beymer, premiered in 1961. It went on to win 10 Oscars, including Best Picture. So, yeah, those are some big character shoes to fill.

Still, instead of groaning when the news broke yesterday, I surprised myself by feeling cautiously optimistic. With the right team in place, this enduring story of prejudice and forbidden love could be updated in an interesting way so that it doesn’t feel like total retread (read: no 1950s New York). Instead of copying the original, Spielberg and his team could take the show’s themes and music, then use them to explore another conflict. In this version, the lovers could be, say, set against the backdrop of the Middle East, or American immigrants circa right now.

Changing West Side Story‘s setting would allow all involved to make the story their own, particularly the new movie’s stars. As we all learned when Carrie Underwood played Maria Von Trapp, people don’t like when iconic roles are messed with. The “same songs, updated book” scenario isn’t unheard of in the world of musicals, especially recent ones: It’s what appears to be happening in the new Annie film, and, to a lesser extent, it’s what Cinderella did for its recent Broadway production.

I’m hesitant to dream cast Maria and Tony — wherever the story takes place — because I believe both parts should be played by unknown talents. A celeb-filled cast would take viewers out of the story (see: Russell Crowe in Les Misérables; actually, don’t), no matter how much Glee star Rivera may be ready to tackle “America.” “Spielberg Does West Side Story” is enough of a draw to get people in the seats — allow this to be the one musical that doesn’t feature miscast famous people singing for their Oscars.

I’m as in love with the original West Side Story as any other musical theater fan. But I think enough time has passed where it might be okay to try something a little bit new — especially if an A-list visionary is at the helm.

Just don’t mess with the choreography.

What do you think: Would Spielberg leading the ship make you interested in a remake of some kind, or should this project be deader than Bernardo and Riff?



( 15 comments — Leave a comment )
Mar. 6th, 2014 09:30 pm (UTC)
Would a remake of West Side Story, even with Spielberg in the lead interest me? Probably not.
I know I'm more of a stick-in-the-mud and a bit more of a homebody, but I think that Spielberg shouldn't even try to direct musicals, especially something like West Side Story, which is in a very special class all by itself.

Also, how would one go about changing the setting of West Side Story if there were a remake of it?

An awful lot of what poses for talent these days is very tin-can like, and reflects the grip that the great big, huge corporations have on the media these days.

With rare exceptions, re-makes and/or sequals of films all too often come out disastrous.

As for exploring another conflict in a remake of West Side Story, there's already a movie called "West Bank Story", based on the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian debacle, which is clearly based on West SIde Story.

Having said all of the above, I prefer that West Side Story NOT be remade.

Mar. 7th, 2014 05:13 am (UTC)
It would be kind of fun to see the exact same story set in modern times, especially since I don't feel the time period is static and could be casually moved to the present day without disturbing anything vital.

That said, I'm pretty skeptical of all remakes. And I'm so obsessed with Simon Oakland that it's very difficult for me to think of anyone else taking up the Schrank role. :)
Mar. 7th, 2014 07:49 am (UTC)
I'm VERY skeptical of remakes as it is, but a remake of West Side Story would be a disaster.
I agree with you about Simon Oakland, but there are lots of other cast members in the original 1961 film version of West Side Story that I feel likewise about.

West Side Story is a very special classic film that's in a category all by itself and should not be tampered with. Having said that, absolutely nothing beats the original!
Mar. 7th, 2014 12:25 pm (UTC)
Re: I'm VERY skeptical of remakes as it is, but a remake of West Side Story would be a disaster.
I agree that the entire cast is very special. :) But with Simon ... I rather have a crush on him! I'd seen the movie before and liked it a lot, but I only really became a big fan after becoming obsessed with Simon and looking up all of his work that I could get a hold of. So it's especially painful for me to think of someone else taking Simon's role.

The movie is definitely in a class by itself. Being a musical, it pretty much has to be something special to have ever attracted my attention even before I got interested in Simon. ;) I usually don't care for musicals, but this is one in a million.
Mar. 7th, 2014 02:16 pm (UTC)
Re: I'm VERY skeptical of remakes as it is, but a remake of West Side Story would be a disaster.
I first got introduced to West Side Story back in the summer of 1962, through the music to the original Broadway stage production, prior to entering the 6th grade, while attending day camp out in Tucson, AZ. Another girl in my group, who'd just received a copy of the LP of the soundtrack to the original Broadway stage production of West Side Story for her birthday, brought it to day camp and played it for the group. My love for the music to WSS and West Side Story itself, took off for me instantly.

Although I didn't get to see the film version of WSS until several years later, at around Christmastime of 1968, as a high school Senior, I loved the film instantly. Little did my family (or I) know that this was the beginning of a love affair with the film West Side Story that has endured ever since!

Although there are some other musicals that I've seen and liked a lot (most musicals, imo, are better on stage than on screen.), I agree that West Side Story really is one in a million. You're spot on about that, which is why I believe a re-make of this great movie classic done by ANYBODY would be a huge mistake...and a disaster.
Mar. 7th, 2014 03:55 pm (UTC)
Re: I'm VERY skeptical of remakes as it is, but a remake of West Side Story would be a disaster.
Ah yes, I remember you telling those stories! :) You have such a long and meaningful history with West Side Story.

The musicals I like best generally have more complex, serious plots and don't sing about things such as whether to pay with cash or credit. ;) And I'm not fond of when it seems like a moral is just shoehorned into a basically silly story, which is how it seemed Oklahoma! handled it. West Side Story thoroughly impressed me with its complexity all the way through and its songs that are serious, intense, and/or fun.
Mar. 7th, 2014 04:23 pm (UTC)
Thank you for all your input, insaneladybug.
It's agreed; musicals that're about complex, controversial and serious subjects (as West Side Story most definitely is!) are the most interesting musicals to see, listen to, and view, both on screen AND on stage.

As for "Oklahoma", my family and I saw the original Broadway stage production of Oklahoma here in Boston, back in the early 1960's (before the film version of West Side Story even came out), and it was fabulous.

Back in the spring of 2004, I saw a revival of the Broadway stage production of Oklahoma, which turned out to be a big disappointment. Everything about it had been pared down; the scenery, the cast, the crew and the props. It was a mere shadow of itself. The Arts section of our biggest local newspaper had a rather mediocre review of it. I should've have read that review before spending all the money on a ticket for the Oklahoma stage revival.
Mar. 7th, 2014 08:32 am (UTC)
It might be interesting to see how they would handle Schrank these days. Would he still be as bull headed or would they go in a different direction.
Mar. 7th, 2014 12:26 pm (UTC)
It would be interesting indeed. Was his dialogue and delivery pretty much the same in the revised Broadway version?
Mar. 7th, 2014 12:35 pm (UTC)
There were some differences but, of course, a remake might take him in another direction. Or not.
Mar. 7th, 2014 02:18 pm (UTC)
Lt. Schrank in the revised Broadway stage production of West Side Story:
When I saw the revised, up-to-date Broadway stage revival of West Side Story, I found that the delivery was much more of a screaming and yelling-fest, although the dialogue was pretty much the same.
Mar. 7th, 2014 03:47 pm (UTC)
Re: Lt. Schrank in the revised Broadway stage production of West Side Story:
That would definitely alter the whole feel of the character. Simon's more quiet deliveries, both when he's trying to be friendly and when he's starting to get upset, are very powerful, and only make the actual screaming even moreso.
Mar. 7th, 2014 04:18 pm (UTC)
What would make Lt. Schrank even more dangerous:
What would make Lt. Schrank even more dangerous, however, would be if he was under total control the entire time, both in his attempts to be friendly, and when he was being tougher on the Jets and the Sharks alike. Oftentimes (though not always), the people who seem very much in control, calm, cool and collected are people that one has to watch out for, if one gets the drift.
Mar. 7th, 2014 04:22 pm (UTC)
Re: What would make Lt. Schrank even more dangerous:
That would be very frightening indeed. It's part of the basis for why a character from an episode of a television series seems to be afraid of another character. Although that character can occasionally snap, his usual nature is calm, cool, and collected, no matter what he's saying or doing.
Mar. 7th, 2014 04:33 pm (UTC)
That's true, insaneladybug!
It's because a tough person with a normally calm, cool and collected nature can snap on occasion on a whim that s/he can be especially dangerous. They're unpredictable and one never knows if or when that person will lose his/her temper. That could easily be applied to Lt. Schrank, and, especially a Ofcr. Krupke, who's much, much quieter than Lt. Schrank, although no less cynical and/or bigoted.
( 15 comments — Leave a comment )


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West Side Story

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