Movie review: West Side Story

There’s a place for us

West Side StoryOf course, my wife my daughter, and I HAD to go see the new movie West Side Story. Not only have we all seen the original film a number of times, but we’ve all attended at least three stage productions of the musical.

First, we loved the physical setup of the opening. The signage suggests the future location of Lincoln Center. It makes sense. “April 21, 1955: The Mayor’s Slum Clearance Committee chaired by Robert Moses is approved by the New York City Board of Estimate to designate Lincoln Square for urban renewal.” Nine years later, buildings began opening. The rubble in the new film was more believable.

Thus, this iteration is in keeping with the timeframe of the original musical (1957) and movie (1961). Of course, the vintage cars would tip one off as well.

This Tony (Ansel Elgort) has a rap sheet, less the dewy-eyed kid from film #1. So his Something’s Coming is less a certainty than a need. But he has the support of Valentina (executive producer Rita Moreno), who is the widow of Doc, who had run the store in the first movie. Valentina is a more substantial character and gets the most affecting song late in the story.

Fancy colors

My daughter noted the color schemes of the Jets (blues, greys) and Sharks (reds, browns). Though I wasn’t consciously aware of this, I must have subliminally picked up on the motif.

This Anita (Ariana DeBose) is at least as feisty as her predecessor, as Bernardo (David Alvarez) finds out. The “eyes lock across the room” between Tony and Maria (Rachel Zegler) isn’t as dramatically corny as in the first film.

What I loved about Tony singing the song Maria afterward is that other people notice, some with admiration, others with disdain, which was occasionally funny.

America was enhanced by dancing in the streets, with passersby occasionally getting a line. Gee, Officer Krupke really works in the new setting, with the ultimate musical payoff. One Hand, One Heart is lovely.

I always found Cool to be the weakest song in the show. In the musical, it’s before The Rumble, but afterward in the original film. It’s before here, but serving a very different purpose, showing a rift between Tony and Riff (Mike Faist).

The Tonight Quintet is the piece that first made me fall in love with West Side Story. The set of The Rumble, with the long shadows, worked well. So did the Gimbels, an old competitor of Macy’s in the day, for I Feel Pretty.


My nutritionist said that WSS is an opera. No more so than A Boy Like That/I Have A Love. The scene at Doc’s with Anita and the Jets was stronger this time.

It seems that from where Chino (Josh Andrés Rivera) shoots Tony, he could have also wounded Maria as well. This Chino was better developed. So was Anybodys (Iris Menas). This is a very talented cast.

If not every note feels as it did when I saw the original nearly six decades ago, it’s OK. Some folks complained that there was some dialogue in Spanish that was not translated. Given the fact that people throughout – the cops, and even Bernardo – were insisting people “speak English”, it was no big deal to me. But I will allow there was occasionally a bit too much talking altogether, IMO.

Still, we’re glad we saw the new film. The critics mostly agree. The box office was rather anemic. Did that have anything to do with allegations against Elgort?

A more fundamental question is whether there should be a remake at all. Did we NEED another version of A Star Is Born a couple of years ago? I dunno, but I don’t spend much time thinking about it.

I’m glad that WSS lyricist Stephen Sondheim got to see this film before he died. He said that he loved it. My family saw it at the Spectrum Theatre in Albany on December 30.

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