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West Side Story Definitely Has It All!

I know that I've written a number of essays as to why I like West Side Story so much, and why I think it's been such a successful musical, both on stage and on screen: However, I could not resist writing this essay, so here I am....

West Side Story, as a movie-musical is the only musical that truly has it all. Here's why:

A) A delightfully brilliant and intense musical score by the late Leonard Bernstein. The fact that there are so many groups of three is what makes this musical score so unique as well, giving it a special flavor that most movie-musical scores don't have.

B) A wonderful cast, with so many talented, funny and/or sardonic actors and actresses, all of who have both the personalities and the looks to play the roles assigned to them in this powerfully dynamite movie-musical.

C) The extremely creative and seamless blending of both on-location and large sound stage settings that are skillfully crafted and combined to create the back-drop of a really rough-and-rundown urban area of the largest American City, New York's West Side .

D) The beautifully-choreographed dancing by the late Jerome Robbins, all of which helped tell and add to an already dynamic story that draws in people of virtually all ages, and from all walks of life. Rita Moreno's dancing in the "America" scene/song is fabulous, and as is the dancing in the Rumble itself, as well as the Cool scene. The skirmishes between the warring Jets and Sharks on the playground, as well as at the Dance at the Gym scene and the Prologue/Jet Song scene, are all beautifully and masterfully created by the late Jerome Robbins. He certainly knew what he was doing, although he had a reputation for working people super-hard, until they dropped, sometimes literally. (Elliot Feld, who played youngest Jets member, Baby-John in the film West Side Story, had to be rushed to the hospital, due to his having collapsed from pneumonia during the filming of the Cool scene.) The dancing in West Side Story, however, is fabulous, overall.

E.) West Side Story, as a movie-musical, has a story behind it that's extremely powerful, first because there aren't really any good guys/gals, or any bad guys/gals in it. It points out the fact that people are doing their best to survive in an impoverished background, in a society that offers them only the crumbs, if one gets the drift. The competition for turf between the native European-American Jets and the newly-arrived Puerto Rican Sharks for a small piece of turf that's been allocated to both of them to fight over by a system that offers only crumbs to people who have little or nothing, to begin with.

F). Yet, in addition to all the fighting and competing for turf, and the fact that the Jets hate the Sharks for their ethnicity, race and culture, and the Sharks hate the Jets right back, in retaliation, is the fact that Tony, once the Jets gang leader, who is tired of gang life and the streets, and wants something more, but doesn't know what, finally does find what he's looking for, at the Dance at the Gym that night, after being convinced by his old buddy/friend, Riff, who's taken over the Jet gang leadership, to go. Tony meets and falls in love with Maria, the younger sister of Bernardo, the Shark gang leader.

G) Jealousy and envy also show themselves, as well, since Bernardo, who has brought Maria to the Continental United States, and to New York City to marry Chino, who's Bernardo's best friend and right-hand man, considers the fact that Maria has fallen in love with Tony, the ex-Jet gang leader, a huge slap in the face, and is humiliated by it. Tribal and ethnic loyalties, as well as friendships that are already present in both gangs, also intensify, as do the tensions and hostilities between the already-warring Jets and Sharks. Anita, who's Maria's close friend, and the girlfriend of Shark gang leader, Bernardo, is not happy with Tony and Maria's romance, either, but unlike Bernardo and Chino, sort of resigns herself to it, albeit unwillingly.

H) Anita, Maria and Anybodys, who's the tomboy and a Jets wannabe, are the strongest, most outspoken women. Maria and her love for Tony, despite the conflict between the Jets and Sharks, who disagrees with Anita strongly, Anita, the fiery girlfriend of Bernardo, who sides with Maria, even after the dance at the gym, when she dances with Tony (after which both are angrily pulled up short by Bernardo.), saying "She was only dancing", and "Girls here are free to have fun. She is in America now."

Anybodys, the tomboy, who's determined to gain acceptance as an equal by the Jets, and ultimately wins acceptance as an equal, by proving that she's tough, and capable of taking care of herself, and by going on a mission to be "in and out of the shadows" in order to find Tony (which she does, and sends him over to Doc's Candy Store, where he hides out in the cellar.) So Anybodys has proven herself a person of courage, as well. Unfortunately, however, Anybodys kind of spoils it all by betraying Anita, who has reluctantly gone to Doc's Candy Store, at Maria's request, to warn Tony that Chino's gunning for him (which Anybodys has previously warned the Jets about), and says, when the Jets, due to prejudice against Anita's ethnicity and culture, as well as the fear that she might blow Tony's cover and get him killed "Don't you understand..I want to help?" and Anybodys says "But she wants to help get Tony.", thus helping to make things worse for Anita, and for everybody else, as well, as the Jets insult, rough up, nearly rape, and generally humiliate Anita, but are stopped by Doc, who just happened to come in at that particular moment.

I) Anita retracts her acceptance of Maria's love for Tony, and her empathy for the Jets and Americans, generally, with a different, angry message of "Bernardo was right! If one of you was lyin' in the street, bleedin', I'd walk by and spit on you!" It's then that Anita spits out a different message than the one she'd originally planned to give to the Jets to give to Tony: "I'll give you the message for your American buddy! You tell that murderer that Maria's never going to meet him! You tell him that Chino found out about them both...and shot her! She's dead!", and then angrily slams out of Doc's Candy Store.

J) The fact that this last event happened indicates that people can and often enough do reveal what they've been feeling, and yet suppressing all along. True feelings can and do often come out during times of anger and/or passion.

K) Yet, at the same time, when Doc, totally exasperated and sad, asks "When do you kids stop? You make this world lousy!"
Action responds: "We didn't make it, Doc.", thus revealing what he thinks of the world, as well. Doc: (exasperated) "Get out of here!" Doc has obviously lost his patience, and is worn out, sad, and frustrated.

L) When Tony, who is hiding in the basement, sees Doc with the cash, he's happy and all excited about what he and Maria plan to do when they're out in the countryside, saying "You know what we're going to do in the country, Maria and me? We're going to have lots and lots of kids, and name them all after you, even the girls. That way, when you come to visit..."

M) Doc's exasperation and frustration and sadness clearly spill over, when he slaps Tony to "wake him up", shouting at Tony, "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? (lowers his voice) Why do you kill?"

N) Doc then sadly tells Tony that "there is no Maria, and that Chino found out about her and Tony...and killed her."
Devastated at this message, Tony feels that his reasons for living have gone, he runs out into the street, yelling for Chino to "Come get him, too". Eventually, Maria appears, she and Tony embrace for a brief moment, before Chino appears from behind a building and shoots Tony dead.

O) The rest of the Jets and Sharks come running, Doc and Officer Krupke and Lt. Schrank are outside, as well, and Chino is eventually escorted to a waiting police car. Just as the Jets and Sharks are ready to clash once more, Maria steps in with an angry message "How do you fire this gun, Chino? By pulling this little trigger?" and pointing the gun at both the Jets and Sharks. Maria's angry message "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!" Unable to fire the gun, Maria breaks down sobbing, as she bends over Tony's body.

P) The fact that the Jets and Sharks have sad, sorrowful and regretful looks, and the fact that Baby John gently drapes Maria's black mourning scarf around her head and shoulders, and the fact that several Jets and Sharks come together to carry Tony's body off after he's been shot and killed by Chino, and that the Jets and Sharks display a possible reconciliation and truce between them after the deaths of Riff, Tony and Bernardo, despite intergroup reconciliations often being quite difficult to achieve, but not impossible.

Q) West Side Story has it all, due to all the action, dancing, romances, exuberance, urban gang warfare and conflict with the law, as well as the beautifully-choreographed dancing by the late Jerome Robbins, the unusual but intensely brilliant Leonard Bernstein musical score, the richly-colored costumes, the cast, the sometimes black humor and comedy as exhibited in the Officer Krupke scene, the futility of attempting to bring the warring gangs together through a social dance at the Gym, and the wonderful cinematography, as well as the cast, all of whom are suited for their specific roles in this great movie-musical, have all been combined into a neatly dynamic package to tell a beautiful, strong and powerful story.

R) The message of West Side Story is a double-edged sword, but that's part of the beauty of this message, and what provides West Side Story, as a movie-musical, with its uniqueness.

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wss crazy cool by dallowayward
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West Side Story

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