8 – West Side Story – The Guardian’s Top Ten Movie Musicals

Movie Musicals are as popular today as they were back in the twenties when sound was first introduced to cinema.
In December 2013 The Guardian Newspaper published their list of the Top Ten Movie Musicals.
Here is what the Guardian’s critics have to say, what we at Actor Hub think of each choice and some of your thoughts (via Amazon’s reviews).
If you agree or disagree please let us know via Twitter @actorhub.
Read the original article on the Guardian’s website.

#8 West Side Story – Top Ten Film Musicals

What The Guardian Said:

Filmed in a New York City neighbourhood that no longer exists, and centred on racial tensions made quaint just a few years later by the civil rights movement, West Side Story ought to be an adorable relic. It asks us to believe that street gangs might dance ballet, that a fire escape could host a romantic moonlit tryst, that Natalie Wood with a tan passes as Puerto Rican. It embraces gooey ideas of love at first sight and retells Romeo & Juliet while backing down on the famous, bloody ending.
But West Side Story still feels more modern than any of the other Oscar-winning musicals of the 60s or, really, most of the others that have come since. From the orchestral overture over an abstracted New York City to the pop of Maria’s red dress in the final scene on the playground, West Side Story embraces its leap to cinema as boldly as the Jets doing a tour jeté. Every musical uses its songs to express big feelings, but few go bigger than West Side Story, which embraces the passions of youth to make an epic out of a pointless turf war and a new love that gets tragically caught in the middle.
The music by Leonard Bernstein and lyrics from Stephen Sondheim, largely unchanged from the Broadway production, run the gamut, from the witty wordplay of America (accompanied by Jerome Robbins’s eye-popping choreography) to the achingly naive Something’s Coming. No song that includes the word “daddy-o” ought to stand the test of time, but here stands Cool anyway. No movie with such a troubled production, and half its cast not even singing, ought to feel so authentic, but West Side Story still punches hard. Like a Rothko painting or an Eames chair, West Side Story is mid-century modernism that will never go out of style. Katey Rich

What We Think:

The movie of West Side Story is a true classic and every musicals fan should have a copy of this on their shelf as it really is a one of a kind. It is probably one of the most acclaimed movie musicals ever, and claims the title of earning the most Oscars of any musical film.
The story is a beautiful re-working of Romeo and Juliet set on the streets of gangland New York and it is full of breathtaking Jerome Robbins choreography. However you do need to accept that these finger clicking, high kicking, jazz handed boys are scary gang members who send the residents of NYC scurrying away as they hitch-kick past!
Some of the sequences are amazing, The Dance hall, America, and the Quintet being my favourites and the colours, sets, costumes and cinematography is wonderful throughout. The music is pure bliss and the story both thrilling and romantic.
If I do have one ‘gripe’ with this classic is the suspension of disbelief needed nowadays to accept that these dancing West End Wendys are a pack of scary criminals, this is heightened by the rather camp dance routines and the lack of any real ‘street’ dialogue – the Arthur Laurents book had to be ‘cleaned up’ for the audience of the day. Infact the overall look of the film is dated with the white actors playing Hispanic characters with a bucketload of fake tan being slightly dodgy nowadays.
As a classic movie this is just that ‘a classic’, but I would love to see what a modern urban choreographer and director could make of it today.ActorHub
Trivia Fans:
  • The original choice to play Tony was Elvis Presley
  • The Jets and Sharks were kept seperate and encouraged to play pranks on each other to build tension.
  • Marni Nixon provides Natalie Wood’s singing vocals throughout the film, she also provides Rita Moreno’s vocals at the end of the quintet as Moreno had a cold and could not sing. So at that point she is singing two voices at once!
  • Sondheim wanted West Side Story to be the first musical with swearing as lyrics but he had to substitute the profanties as it would have made the cast recording illegal and so we have the lines Gee, Officer Krupke – Krup you! and When you’re a Jet – If the spit hits the fan

What You Think:

The Top Ten Movie Musicals