by Pat Cerasaro
Today, in honor of Steven Spielberg's admission this week that he is contemplating a big screen remake of it, we salute one of the most high profile musicals ever written, WEST SIDE STORY.
One Hand, One Heart
The game? Create a perfect musical. The players? Leonard Bernstein. Stephen Sondheim. Arthur Laurents. Jerome Robbins. William Shakespeare. Honestly, could a more wildly ambitious and attention-worthy creative team possibly ever top that? ...Not likely. No doubt coming directly as a result, WEST SIDE STORY is the ideal artistic fulfillment of a tricky and complex treatment of a revered text as only geniuses such as these men could have ever conjured up. What originally began as a dance-based musical taking on the then-pertinent social conflict of opposing minorities in the rapidly-changing New York City of the late 1950s ultimately came to be one of the most ubiquitous and unusual musicals in theatre history once fully realized onstage. Gritty, ambitious, dangerous and oh-so cool, WEST SIDE STORY is a true anomaly in the musical theatre canon, not only in its ambitions but also in its notoreity - and for very good reason.
Giving new meaning to scoring a home run, has a finer musical theatre song stack for a singular musical ever been created, before or since? It would be difficult indeed to find a score with this many recognizable hits, after all. From the rhapsodic "Tonight" to the lilting "Maria" to the touching "One Hand, One Heart" to the spine-tingling "Somewhere" to the searing "A Boy Like That", rollicking "Gee, Officer Krupke", syncopated "Cool", and, of course, that absolutely unforgettable opener, "Something's Coming", WEST SIDE STORY is overloaded with musical majesty and goes a long way in disproving the notion that dense, complex and intellectual music is somehow incapable of being hummable: it is nearly impossible not to hum these tunes once you have heard them... even just once. The fact that the Billboard record for the longest-running #1 album of all-time is the movie soundtrack for WEST SIDE STORY speaks well to its popularity, as well - as do the revered film adaptation's 10 Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director (Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins).
In addition to the score, WEST SIDE STORY also packs a major punch insofar as the ripe acting opportunities it affords its corps - Tony's valiant modern-day Romeo, Maria's sweet contemporary Juliet, along with the acrobatic antics of Riff, The Jets, The Sharks, and, of course, Maria's smart and sassy best friend, Anita. Maximizing the theatrical and dramatic potential of the property as written, Jerome Robbins also provided each and every character with masterful movement to mirror their character's inner-lives and to express their innermost thoughts and feelings through choreography, as expertly enacted in the unforgettable "Dance At The Gym" sequence and reaching its artistic and dramatic apotheosis in the "Somewhere" ballet. The combination of dance and detailed characterization coupled with the masterpiece of a score and the classic story upon which it is all based cumulatively helped to craft the best of the best as far as musical theatre goes - whether in 1957 or 2014.
Now, with long-rumored rumblings of a new cinematic take on the vaunted property being cautiously confirmed to be under consideration by none other than multi-award-winning Hollywood heavyweight Steven Spielberg himself in an interview this week, it seems that today - or, should that be: tonight - is the perfect time to look at some of the many reasons why a new version of the musical could hit all the right notes with a contemporary audience.
First, check out this rare footage of the original Broadway production of WEST SIDE STORY.
Next, Tony Award winner Debbie Allen leads "America" from the 1980 revival.
Check out Cody Green enacting a red-hot iteration of "Cool" on a morning chat show.
See the trailer for Fathom's recent re-release of the classic feature film in honor of its 50th anniversary.
Plus, who can forget those classic late-90s GAP ads featuring WEST SIDE STORY?
Darren Criss lights up Glee with a spirited singing of "Something's Coming".
Julian Ovenden and Sierra Boggess recreate the iconic balcony scene at the BBC Proms.