I realize that we’re all just reeling and trying to get over a weird, crazy and trying year, especially with President Donald Trump’s election, but I thought I’d inject another West Side Story diary, just for the heck of it. ...
West Side Story, as I’ve pointed out, is extremely special as a musical, both on stage and on screen, not just simply because of other reasons that I’ve written about, but it’s also due, at least in part, to something else: Unlike other musicals such as Oklahoma, South Pacific and even the Sound of Music, to name afew, West Side Story is not a musical whose songs that Rogers and Hammerstein were involved in writing/publishing.
Like The Sound of Music and South Pacific, West Side Story is a musical that revolves around and deals with very strong subject matters. While The Sound of Music is about the Von Trapps of Austria, whose father is a patriotic, jingoistic and nationalistic individual who runs a very tight ship and disciplines his children rather severely, who, after working for the Nazis, realizes what they’re up to, what they stand for and what they’re doing, and ultimately takes himself and his family over the mountains to Switzerland, South Pacific is all about love, romance life in the South Pacific, fun, and deals with the problems of racism, as well. West Side Story, on the other hand, while it’s about love and romance that develops between two people of different ethnic gangs (i. e. the White European American Jets vs. the newly-arrived Puerto Rican Sharks), it also deals with racism and racial/ethnic prejudices, love/romance that eventually goes up in smoke, due to the continual hatred and conflict between the Jets and Sharks, and urban gang warfare and conflict with the law.
West Side Story, however is different from many, if not most other musicals, including the other ones that I’ve mentioned above, however, because it’s a much more rounded-out, wholesome, and more intense, interesting story, with equally intense cinematography, a great cast and costumes, and a brilliant Leonard Bernstein musical score to back it up and intensify the story behind West Side Story even more. The cool book by Arthur Laurents, plus the fact that real geniuses like the late Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim, as well as the late Jerome Robbins and Robert Wise were behind West Side Story, as well as some good dance assistance, is really what gives West Side Story its unusual and hauntingly beautiful flavor, as well. The fact that Arthur Laurents wrote the original script for the original Broadway stage production of West Side Story also gave West Side Story, both on stage and on screen, it’s unusual flavor, and put it in a class by itself. We must also remember that the splendidly-choreographed dancing in West Side Story, by the late Jerome Robbins (which there is a lot of.) also helps make this movie/musical the dynamic package that it really and truly is.
Musicals such as West Side Story, The Sound of Music and South Pacific, however also have other similarities. All three of these musicals deal with love and romance, as well as racism and prejudice, and the deleterious consequences of such latter attitudes, actions and emotions. Yet, they’re all dealt with in different ways. West Side Story deals with a love and romance that develops between two young people from different urban street gangs and racial/ethnic groups. Unlike in the Sound of Music, or South Pacific, however, the love between West Side Story’s Tony and Maria ultimately goes up in smoke due to the unremitting hatred and hostilities between the European-American Jets and the newly-arrived Puerto Rican Sharks
The Sound of Music has a somewhat more treacly, sweeter quality to it than West Side Story. The love that grows between Maria, who’s been hired as a new governess for the Von Trapp children since Captain Von Trapp’s wife died, and Captain Von Trapp is a love that endures (They end up getting married.), despite all that happens in the end. The oldest daughter, Lisl, falls in love with Ralph, who’s slightly older than she is, but turns out to be working for the Nazis, at a very young age yet, and thereby betrays Lisl Von Trapp and her family, and Captain Von Trapp takes his family over the mountains to Switzerland to escape the Nazis’ regime.
I’ve never seen either the stage play or the movie version of South Pacific, so I don’t have a great deal to compare this musical with, but I really do think that both West Side Story and The Sound of Music, although enjoyable on TV, really do cry out to be shown on a great big, wide movie screen, in a real movie theatre, with the lights down, and the experiences are to be shared with a whole bunch of other people, whether one knows them or not.
Unlike South Pacific, Oklahoma and, to an extent, The Sound of Music, which are all quite suave and smooth by comparison, however, West Side Story also has a harder, harsher quality to it overall, which separates it from most musicals, due to the very story behind it, as well as the rough-and-rundown urban environment that it's set in, therefore giving it a much brusquer, rougher quality, which I believe, appeals to many, many people, myself included. Yet, West Side Story has its funny parts, its exuberant parts, and the fact that a hint of possible reconciliation, and therefore a ray of hope between the warring Jets and Sharks, which also sends a beautiful message, despite the fact the Tony ultimately gets shot and killed by Chino, who’s finally retaliated against Tony, who killed Bernardo, who, in turn, had killed Tony’s old friend and fellow Jet, Riff. The fact that West Side Story takes place in a run-down area of a large east coastal city, New York, is also what makes it successful and special.