As a stage production, as well as the film version, West Side Story is a musical that seriously needs a really top-notch orchestra, a top-notch cast, top-notch dancing, and a top-notch scenery designer in order for it to really work out as it is supposed to. Perhaps this is due to a combination of the following: the very subject matter of West Side Story as a musical, the brilliant Bernstein musical score, the scenery sets that occur both on stage and on screen, the beautifully-choreographed dancing, which plays a huge part in the narration of the story behind West Side Story, and the very story itself.
Even as a film, West Side Story is extremely theatrical, due to the fact that when it was transferred from stage to screen, it was preserved as a larger-than-lifesized piece of theatre. That, in itself, is one of the strengths of West Side Story as a film, and another reason why it's still popular and relevant, even today. What also puts West Side Story in a special class by itself is the fact that whether one watches the film version or sees a stage production of it, this great musical generally keeps people on their toes, and is magnetic enough in its overall personality and subject matter to keep (most) people watching it with their eyes glued to the screen or the stage.
Generally, however, while movies, generally, absolutely demand one's attention due to their looming up larger than life-sized on a great big movie theatre screen, stage productions require a much narrower focus, due to dealing with live actors/actresses, plus more subtle stage scenery, in order to maintain the wave of communication between the live actors/actresses on stage and the audience(s).
West Side Story is in a very special class by itself, because it contains everything...and I mean, literally, everything. From light to dark and slightly back to light again, the various characters from the warring Jets and Sharks to the adults (i. e. Doc, Ofcr. Krupke, and Lt. Schrank (who's rather cantankerous, tough and bitter from years of experience from dealing with street gangs, including the Jets and Sharks), to the romancing Tony and Maria, as well as Shark gang leader, Bernardo and his girlfriend, Anita, all of the cast, the dancing, and the musical score, as well as the story behind West Side Story are combined to convey a double-edged but great message; the deleterious consequences of racial and ethnic hatred and prejudice and gangsterism, the fact that escaping one's familial and environmental upbringing is far easier said than done, and the possibility of intergroup reconciliation, despite what happens.
The fact that the various emotions in West Side Story, both on film and on screen (i. e. exuberance, anger, arrogance, cockiness, sadness, love, romance, violence, and ultimately, death, as well as possible intergroup reconciliation) are expressed so concisely through dance is also what puts West Side Story into a very special class by itself as a musical. One especially interesting observation in the very musical score of West Side Story, be it on stage or on screen, is the fact that there is frequent use of the three-noted group of notes that one hears on a sofa, often come out of the large crab.
West Side Story is also very special because everything that happens in this musical is destined to happen. Since everything that occurs, as well as the people in West Side Story meeting each other, namely by chance, the various events that occur in West Side Story, purely by destiny, are like a speeding train that's out of control; they absolutely cannot be stopped. If Tony's attempt to head off the Rumble is any indication, putting the brakes on all these events, much less putting a complete halt to what's going to happen, or even attempting to put a complete halt to what's about to happen, would clearly be an exercise in futility, and wasted energy, to boot, plus there would be no story of any real consequence to tell for West Side Story.
It's clear from the very beginning of West Side Story that a deadly showdown was destined to occur, that people are destined to fall in love, and that some people are destined to go down for the final count; they would die, and the love between Tony and Maria was destined never to see the light of day. The various characters in West Side Story, especially the Jets and Sharks, were driven sheerly by emotions, especially Riff, Bernardo and Tony, who were destined to be totally choked by their conflicting emotions, and to die by the sword that they lived by.
Yet, at the same time, all of these events were destined to culminate not only in three deaths (i. e. Riff, Bernardo and ultimately, Tony), but also in the insults, the roughing up, and the near-rape of Anita by most of the Jets when she (albeit reluctantly) goes to Doc's Candy Store to warn Tony (at Maria's request) to help the Jets protect Tony from Chino, after learning that Chino, a Shark gang member, is gunning for him, was also inevitable, but there is also a hint of possible intergroup reconciliation, in the end.
Another very special aspect of West Side Story, whether it be on stage or on screen, is the fact it's proof that people don't necessarily have to live happily ever after in order for a story to be a good one, with a good, concise message to it.
Tags: comedy, darkness, exuberance, hatred, hope, livejournal, love, messages, movie, movie theatres, optimism, photography, prejudice, relevance, romance., sadness, violence, west side story, west side story (1961 film), wide screens
West Side Story is a very rare and special musical that's in a class by itself. Never has there been a musical that's so spectacular on both stage and screen alike. Because of the subject matter, the intensely brilliant Leonard Bernstein musical score that combines jazz, pop, Latin, Calypso and classical music into one score, the beautifully-choreographed dancing by (the late) Jerome Robbins, as well as where the very story behind West Side Story is set, West Side Story is one of the few musicals that is not only equally successful on stage and screen, but is equally exciting, as well. ...
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There are some definite advantages to both film and live theatre. Whereas film absolutely demands one's full attention due to looming larger than life-sized on a great big, wide movie theatre screen, it takes more effort to maintain the wave of communication between real live actors/actresses on stage, due to the fact that stage productions require a much narrower focus and a higher amount of concentration to maintain that wave of communication. In either event, however, West Side Story is a musical that automatically captures the attention of the audience and keeps the wave(s) of communication between the actors/actresses and audiences intact due to the overall exciting quality. The fact that West Side Story was preserved as a larger-than-lifesized piece of theatre when it was transferred from stage to screen is one of the things that makes it so special--and exciting, and successful on screen, as well as on stage.
Here's something else about West Side Story that bears mentioning, as well: West Side Story is a musical that requires a top-notch orchestra, a top-notch cast, and top-notch scenery that's well designed, as well as people who really know how to dance, sing and act. Many people have grumbled, and still grumble about the fact that neither Natalie Wood or Richard Beymer knew how to act, dance or sing and that their voices had to be dubbed. As a devout fan of the film version of West Side Story who's also seen several very good stage productions of the original Broadway stage production and who's also fully aware that the dubbing of singing voices when making musicals into movies was quite common during that general period, and due to my intense love for the film version of WSS, I have been more than willing to overlook the fact that both Natalie Wood's and Richard Beymer singing voices were dubbed.
Because the Beymer-bashing has gotten so out of hand in many circles, and due to Natalie Wood's open hostility towards him (Natalie Wood actually tried to get Richard Beymer kicked off the set on several occasions!) I have been more than willing to give Richard Beymer the benefit of the doubt, despite my having initially thought that he played a weak, somewhat lackluster Tony in the film version of West Side Story. I realize that Richard Beymer was a stronger Tony than I originally thought, due to the fact that he was very tender in his romantic outlook towards Maria, and the fact that the old "street" Tony emerged in the end, when he retaliated against Bernardo after he'd stabbed Riff to death, by doing likewise to Bernardo.
West Side Story, in either instance, sends yet another, somewhat more sordid message: That escaping one's environmental and familial upbringing is far easier said than done.
Another thing that puts West Side Story in such a special class by itself is the fact that not only are there so many intensely different emotions, ranging from exuberance, arrogance, toughness, cockiness, gentleness, love, romance, hatred, violence, death, and possible reconciliation between the Jets and Sharks, but that they're expressed, quite vividly and intensely, through dance, as well as beautifully created scenery on both stage and screen. As I've also pointed out, the message that West Side Story conveys is quite unique, despite the fact that it's a somewhat double-edged sword, which also makes this great movie/musical as special as it is.
The people who said that there would never, ever be a movie/musical like West Side Story again were 100% right on their money, and I firmly stand by my conviction that no re-make of the film version of West Side Story could ever, ever take the place of the original 1961 film. Even the more-up-to-date Broadway stage version of WSS, will never, ever take the place of the original.