Sure, West Side Story, as a musical, does have its detractors--inotherwords people who, for whatever reason(s) are simply not crazy about it, or simply dislike it, as a whole, due to its very personality. Not everybody likes a musical that, although fiction, is closer to reality, in that it reveals so much stuff that's frequently played out in real life, not only here in the United States, but throughout the world, generally, and in such an open and sometimes harsh and rough in the way in which it is portrayed. It's understandable, but that is what gives West Side Story, as a musical overall, both on stage and on screen, has its very own, individual personality.
Many people prefer musicals, such as South Pacific, My Fair Lady, as well as Oklahoma, and other musicals that are happier, smoother, and deal namely with the smoother sides of life, as well as the smoother aspects of romance. Yet, the personalities of these other musicals, while enjoyable in their own way(s), aren't nearly as captivating as West Side Story,at least not to me, anyhow.
West Side Story, as a movie-musical, has a very captivating personality that has the ability to get most people into the overall feeling and spirit, due to its exuberance, harshness, gentleness, wittiness and sometimes black comedy (as is exhibited in the Officer Krupke scene), violence, the stark rattle of death that's too intense to forget and that puts both a pall and a pathos over both the Jets and Sharks.
When both the Jets and Sharks show up at the pre-Rumble War Council at Doc's Candy Store and agree to the Rumble, one knows right away what's going to happen; people will die, and others will be badly hurt, or at least touched, emotionally, by the killings, as well, and long-suppressed or repressed feelings will surface. Yet, at the same time, one can sense that a ray of hope is about to come shining through, and that people will realize that the fighting over race, ethnicity and turf is all for naught. That ray of hope, however, comes shining through only after Maria's angry message of:
"You all killed him (meaning Tony), and my brother, and Riff! Not with bullets and guns! With hate! Well, I can kill too, because now I have hate!"
Many of the Jets and the Sharks were clearly saddened and further angered over the killings of Riff and Bernardo, and Tony, because they'd seen three people who'd been close to them despite the conflicts, and the fact that Maria's angry message had brought true feelings to the surface. Maria also discovered true feelings that she'd harbored the whole time, but had suppressed until after Tony's death. The same is true of Anita, when, after she was roughed up, insulted and almost gang-raped by the Jets when she went to Doc's Candy Store and attempted to give the message to Tony that Chino was gunning for him, in order to help protect Tony.
Baby-John, the youngest and least mature of the Jets, is moved to tears by the stabbing deaths of Riff and Bernardo, and yet is comforted by his buddy, A-Rab, who's also clearly discovered his doubts about the whole thing when he says "I wish it was yesterday."
Anita's retaliatory response after the Jets humiliated her:
(i. e. "Bernardo was right. If one of you was lyin' in the street, bleedin', I'd walk by and spit on you!")
was indicative of Anita's anger finally boiling over, discovering that she really did have hostility towards the Jets and Maria's romance with Tony, even after she'd disagreed with Bernardo so many times regarding the immigration experience here in the Continental United States, and the fact that, even though she, too disapproved of Tony and Maria's romance, that Maria had the right to make up her own mind.
So it was with Chino, whom Maria had been brought to the Continental United States to marry, when he discovered that Maria had a preference for Tony, the ex-Jets gang leader over him, and that Tony, who Maria loved, had killed Bernardo.
The same thing is true of Tony, when he retaliated against Bernardo's stabbing and killing Riff, by stabbing Bernardo to death. The old, original "street" version of Tony that he'd been suppressing, or trying to suppress, in order to show his love for Maria, finally revealed itself, because it had never really gone away in the first place.
West Side Story is a story about racial/ethnic conflict, as well as conflict over turf, and friendships and tribal/ethnic loyalties, and a romance that developed between an ex-Jets gang leader and the younger sister of the Shark gang leader despite conflict and disapproval of both gangs, only to go up in smoke due to the same tribal, racial and ethnic loyalties and friendships that ultimately got in the way.
Yet, West Side Story is also about hope, as well; the hope that someday, somewhere, people will get together, realize that fighting over turf, ethnicity, race and culture will never get anywhere. It was Maria's angry message that brought the Jets and the Sharks to their senses, as several members of each gang came together to carry Tony's body off after he'd been shot and killed by Maria's former lover, Chino, who is a Shark gang member, and a friend/right-hand man of Bernardo's, not only in retaliation for Tony's having stabbed and killed Bernardo, but out of anger and jealousy of Maria, due to her having loved Tony, rather than Chino.
The adults, i. e. Doc, Lt. Schrank and Officer Krupke have also discovered their feelings and doubts; how to influence young people to go in a better direction, with aggravation turning to resignation and frustration after the Rumble, when three deaths occur, or when sadness turns to anger when he slaps Tony to wake him up after he's all excited about the possibility of him and Maria going out to the country, marrying and having lots of kids, etc. Doc's message clearly comes through when he slaps Tony and says:
"Wake up! Is this the only way to get through to you? Do just what you all do? Bust like a hot-water pipe? Why do you kids live like there's a war on? (lowering his voice) Why do you kill?"
Tony's exuberance and happiness turns to chagrin, first startled over Doc's sudden harsh reaction to Tony for refusing to face reality, and then to anger and angst when he learns of the angry message that Anita sent to the Jets, in retaliation for the Jets' attacks on her:
"I've got a message for your American buddy! You tell that murderer that Maria's never going to meet him! Tell her that Chino found out about them...and shot her! She's dead!
Doc's frustrations also turn to exasperation when he says to the Jets, "When do you kids stop? You make this world lousy."
Action says: "We didn't make it, Doc."
Doc then says (now exasperated) "Get out of here!"
When the Jets and Sharks gather together in one place and Tony's body is carried off by several members of both gangs, that's when the ray of hope that West Side Story contains comes shining through.
The very captivating overall personality of West Side Story, a movie-musical, that, after all the feuding, the arrogance, the violence, and three deaths that ends in a ray of hope is also what made West Side Story so successful on both stage and screen, and earn the film version of West Side Story ten well-deserved Academy Awards, including the Best Picture, in late October of 1961, and has captured the hearts, minds, ears and eyes of most of the world's population since.
I admit that I'm certainly no exception to this. From the moment I was introduced to West Side Story through the music to the original Broadway stage production as a young kid just about to enter the sixth grade, out West, in Day camp, West Side Story had a strong hold on my imagination, and tugged at my heartstrings, and it still does, years and years later.
Although I've seen many other movies, both old and new, that I've liked a great deal, some enough to see more than once, West Side Story is very special to me, due to its captivating personality.