Okay...I've rambled on enough for the beginning of my essay, so now it's time for me to get to the real crux of the essay that I'm about to really embark on. The really main beauty of West Side Story as a movie-musical is that it's got everything, and I mean literally, everything. Sure, there are other musicals that deal with some of the same subjects that West Side Story does, but they don't have nearly the same sort of intensity, beauty, or fascination for lots of people, because West Side Story has certain things that other musicals seem to lack.
Without ever having gotten to see the movie/musical, South Pacific, for example, I can sense that while it too deals with some of the same stuff that West Side Story deals with (i. e. romance, racism), it lacks a great deal of the stuff that West Side Story has; being set in a rough-and-run-down urban area that's part of the largest city here in the United States: New York, gang warfare, lots of exuberant dancing, very colorful costumes, a brilliantly intense musical score that's very different and more interesting than the musical scores of other musicals. Also, West Side Story also speaks about prostution, drug abuse, parental abuse, and poor familial/environmental upbringing, and the necessity to be somewhat tough in order to survive, but that same sort of toughness can also lead to cockiness, arrogance, gratuitous, gross violence, and, eventually death, as is indicated by the deaths of Riff, Bernardo, and Tony. While West Side Story loudly displays racism and sexism, it also speaks equally loudly against such attitudes, as well.
West Side Story also has a romance between Tony and Maria that develops amid conflict between the warring gangs, i. e. the Jets and Sharks, only to go up in smoke, due to the constant, concomitant hatred and hostility between the warring Jets and Sharks. Unlike South Pacific and many other musicals, West Side Story's songs are punctual, exuberant, vibrant, and each song indicates an individual part of the very story behind West Side Story.
Not withstanding the fact that West Side Story as a movie-musical, narrates its various emotions in the form of dance and has such an intense musical score that also varies a great deal, it's interesting, in that there's lots of three-noted groups in each song, which also makes West Side Story stand out from other movie-musicals, while in most other musicals, the musical scores seems much less intense, the songs softer and gentler in rhythm than those in West Side Story. Part of what gives West Side Story its strength as a movie-musical, however, is the fact that the musical score, as well as the content itself, as well as the characters and the very story behind West Side Story, is far bolder and brassier than the contents, the musical store, the very story behind it, as well as the various characters, dancing and songs, and the romances between Tony and Maria, as well as that of Bernardo and Anita seem somewhat brassier, despite the fact that the romance of Tony and Maria on screen, can and does seem a little bit slower at times, but that's okay. I can put up with that.
Unlike most movie-musicals, which have a somewhat more treacly and sentimental air to them, West Side Story is by no means sentimental or treacly. It's much brassier and harder, rougher and tougher than most movie-musicals, which is what also gives this great movie-musical its strength. Also, West Side Story has law-enforcement people (i. e. cops) in it, which also makes this movie-musical what it is as well, because they're needed, especially in big cities, due to conflict with different kinds of people, especially gangs, and yet a certain amount of caring about and concern for them, as well. So, as another poster on another thread here on this site, it's entirely possible that both Lt. Schrank and Sgt. Krupke still had sympathetic kind hearts underneath the roughness-toughness and hatred and frustration that they had, due to years of having to bring gangs and gang warfare under control, and frequently, not succeeding.
Yet, West Side Story, as a movie-musical, also has its funny and/or exuberant parts, as well, some of which make me smile, or even laugh out loud. The Dance at the Gym and the America scenes are both quite exuberant, and brassy, and they involve the letting out of certain emotions, which although exuberant, have a strong streak of anger and determination, which makes them quite brassy, in a good way, but yet they are the predicaments of what is to come. Both of the songs "Tonight" and "Something's Coming" are also premonitions of what's to come, both great (good) and bad.
The funnier scenes, such as the Officer Krupke scene, as well as certain smaller scenes and comments made by some of the characters in West Side Story also indicate the need for humor for survival in a tough urban environment. Here are some smaller scenes that are good examples of incidents that make people laugh:
A) The scene between Riff and Tony, when Riff calls on Tony to come to the dance that night to meet him and the rest of the Jets, when Riff expresses his disappointment in Tony for leaving the Jets:
Riff: Four and a half years I live with a buddy and his family. I think I'm diggin' a guy's character. Boy am I a victim of disappointment in you.
Tony: End your sufferin', little man! Why don't you just..pack up your gear and move out?
Riff: 'Cause your ma's hot for me.
(At this point, Tony twists Riff's arm) No! 'Cause I hate livin' with my buggin' uncle, uncle, UNCLE!
This scene evokes laughs, as does the Officer Krupke scene, as well as the scene in which Chino, another Shark gang member who's Bernardo's best friend and right-hand man says, after Anita invites him in
Maria: Come on in,Chino
Chino: But this is a shop for ladies.
Anita: We won't bite you. 'Til we know you better."
Or, the other scenes in which Anita is altering Maria's old white Communion dress for Maria to wear to the dance that night:
Maria: Perhaps you could manage to lower the neck>
Anita: Next year.
Maria: Anita this is a dress for dancing, no longer for praying.
Anita: Listen! With those boys, you can start in dancing and end up praying.
Maria: I think I will tell mom and dad about you and Bernardo in the Balcony of the movies!
Anita: I will rip this (meaning the dress) to shreds!
Maria: What happens when you look at Bernardo in the movies?
Anita: It's when I don't look that it happens.
Both of these scenes also evoke much laughter and smiles, as does the scene when Tony comes in, meets Maria.
Tony: Buenos noches.
Anita: It's too early for noches. Buenos trades.
Tony: Buenos tardes.
Maria: He just came from the drug store to deliver...aspirin.
Anita: You'll need it.
Tony: Not us..We're fine. We're out of the world. we're twelve feet in the air.
Anita: You're out of your heads. You'd better be home in fifteen minutes.
Maria, (to Anita) You will not tell.
Anita: Tell what? How can I know what goes on twelve feet over my head? This is yet another laugh-evoking scene.
West Side Story, as a movie musical, also has a certain amount of sadness to it, as well, particularly towards the end, after the deaths of Riff and Bernardo during the Rumble, and when Baby-John is moved to tears by the two killings, and when Graziella openly grieves for Riff, who'd been her boyfriend, and is comforted by Ice's girlfriend, Velma.
After the Rumble, when the Jets are hiding out in a huge city parking garage due to having fled the police, the sadness along with the anger is apparent. Some exuberance is regained during the Cool scene, when Ice, the new Jet gang leader, advises the Jets to keep cool, and to come through for Tony, after having danced their tensions away and are now "cool".
Not funny at all is the near-rape of Anita by Action and most of the Jets, as Anita enters Doc's Candy Store to give Tony the message that Chino's gunning for him. Only the arrival of Doc prevented the rape of Anita by a number of the Jets from occurring, but the damage was done; Anita retaliated by stating a different message: That Chino had found out about Maria and Tony and shot her dead.
Yet, with all the violence, the roughness, racism and racial hatred, the exuberance, and the sadness, as well as the conflict with the law, the constant fighting and feuding between the Jets and the Sharks, there is a ray of hope in the end, which seems to reveal itself after Maria states her message: "You all killed him (meaning Tony, after he's been gunned down by Chino in retaliation for his having stabbed Bernardo to death.), and my brother, and Riff! Not with bullets and guns! With hate! Well, I can kill too, because now I have hate!"
The ray of hope that comes is a hint of possible reconciliation between the Jets and Sharks, as several Jets and Sharks come together to carry Tony's body off.
To be brief, and to summarize what I've written here: Unlike most movie-musicals, West Side Story does have everything, without a doubt, from urban gang warfare, to conflict with the law, the immigrant experience, the hatred and prejudice that immigrants all too often experience, and the battle for turf and determination on the part of the Sharks to "have a piece of this world, too". The mock wedding between Tony and Maria in the Bridal shop where she and Anita work as seamstresses is sort of a pretty scene, when both Tony and Maria are optimistic about their future together, only to have it all collapse around them, from the sense of humor, to the Rumble and the deaths that follow, to Anybodys, the tough tomboy, who's a determined fighter to gain acceptance from the Jets, which she eventually gets. Anybodys' valiance, along with the ability to prove ready to take care of herself, has proven that she's tough, and that she can take care of herself.
So, all in all, West Side Story is a wonderful movie-musical, with much sadness, as well. It's a movie that's well worth watching.