West Side Story

Sixty years have passed since we had a screen version of “West Side Story.” Most of us can hum along with many of the fabulous songs created by Leonard Bernstein (music) and Stephen Sondheim (lyrics) from the original stage musical. This new version, directed by Steven Spielberg, brings the music and the tragic love story to life for a new century.

The only recognizable face in the film for most of us is that of Cory Stoll who plays a policeman. The lead female role, that of Maria, is played by newcomer Rachel Zegler in her very first big-screen role. Tony, her romantic counterpart, is played by Ansel Elgort. We watched him with satisfaction in the odd caper film “Baby Driver” in 2017. The rest of the cast is made up of talented singers and dancers who have not yet become famous.

We all have some familiarity with the Romeo and Juliet story so there is little to attract us to a retelling of the doomed lovers. But set to the immortal music of Bernstein, we come to hear the music that delights us, saddens us, elevates us, and occasionally makes our heart soar. The music is grand.

Songs that we know from the first film or from the stage version include “Tonight,” “Maria,” “America,” “I Feel Pretty,” and the comic turn, “Gee Officer Krupke.” This music has become a part of the American musical heritage and we love hearing it again.

Watch for Rita Moreno as Valentina. She played in the 1961 version of the “West Side Story.” Then, she played Anita. This time Ariana DeBose filled that role wonderfully.

The non-speaking cast and some with few lines seemed to be a bit too old for the teen street gang members. I suspect they were chosen for their talents as dancers and singers. I am OK with that, this is a musical.

“West Side Story” runs for a good long 2 hours and 36 minutes. This PG-13 rated film gets a solid five saw blade rating. Stephen Spielberg, the producer, allowed Steven Spielberg the director $100 million to re-make this American classic. Spielberg has three Oscars and another nine nominations, as well as a special Academy Award. We should watch this one for the music and also to see what one of the truly great directors has done with this story.

Note on rating the movies: A movie can get five saw blades if I can’t imagine a thing to change.

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