As we come to the end of February, it’s impossible not to reflect on the meaning of relationships. Is it really just some kind of biological need to make more people, or is it a real choice that we have? No matter what boat you fall in, we can all agree that there are those who take it to the extremes, and yet are somehow the ultimate love birds. Yeah Romeo and Juliet, I’m looking at you. Lets look at the most famous adaptation of Shakespeare’s famous story that is West Side Story.
I’ll be honest, I hate this show with every fiber of my being. Perhaps it was the connection to my least favorite Shakespeare play, the way death is romanticized, or the fact that having to watch this in school took something away but no matter the cause I can never go through a full showing of this movie. I always stick to the few songs I enjoy.
West Side Story set the standard for movie musicals at the time, and outside of Singing in the Rain is still one of the most successful in its genre.It’s a important film that many view as nearly perfect, or having very little flaws. Well, outside of the whitewashing by getting a white actress to play a Puerto Rican, but it was another time period so there’s no way that would happen today, right?
Right off the bat, the Prologue does a wonderful job creating a great urban atmosphere. You feel the city for all it’s dirt and grime, hear crowds and cars. It’s a wonderful piece of that when added to the Overture is one of Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim’s best. Then all that slips as we get to the Jet Song. While the intro line of ” Once you’re a Jet…” may be famous, the song itself isn’t.
Luckily after the short but enjoyable Something’s coming, we hear more of that wonderful orchestra in Dance at the Gym, which is just a blast. Outside of one other song, which we will get to, this is my favorite piece. A fun time to listen to, this song makes me want to dance.
Of course, this being the month of love, there’s two songs we are here for. We’ll start with the obvious in Maria. A song that is tried and true, Maria may just be the song I like the least in the whole film. It’s sung beautifully but it’s just, somehow desperate. You just met this girl, that’s not love!
At least Tonight is a wonderful ballad, lyrically it’s much better. The stage version in particular does a great job of showing the great contrast of this budding love and the impending doom of the two gangs preparing to fight. Of course, we only remember the duet and fact that these kids have known each other for hours!
Why can’t all these songs be like the great Officer Krupke and tackle the fact that the Sharks feel like they’ve been let down by America (the place) so they owe nothing to no one! Perhaps even the fantastic America (the song) where you have to face the fact that “…things are alright in America, if you are white in America!” Lyrics that some still hold true today when you look at the political climate.
Nope, we stick to the “sappy” story of two kids thinking just based on looks that they were meant to be, and that life is fun and games until you stab someone to death.