West Side Story the Musical (1957) was one of the LPs I used to listen to on my mom’s record player way before I saw the 1961 film. I think I was around 11 or 12 when I realized how much emotion came through the music. The lyrics told a story, and there was this tense feeling of anticipation with the snaps and the whistling… “Something’s Coming.”
Did we need another remake of this classic? Of course not. Consider the West Side Story musical that premiered on Broadway a couple of years ago. It lacked the respect of the original story, resorting to light shows and walled media screens that distracted from the performances. Hard to witness love at first sight through all of those lasers.
However, this film version has master Stephen Spielberg as director. His interpretation stays true to the original book. His few changes are subtle and respectful of the original creators and performers. It received the blessing of Stephen Sondheim, (original co-composer), and highlights legend Rita Moreno, (who won for Best Supporting Actress as Anita in 1961), in a touching newly constructed role as Tony’s (Ansel Egort) mentor.
This cast is outstanding. Newcomer Rachel Zegler shines as Maria. Innocent and dazzling, she flows through her scenes with grace. The chemistry between her and Tony is magnetic. Mike Faist (Dear Evan Hansen) delivers heart as Tony’s rugged and loyal best friend Riff. Ariana DeBose is dynamic on screen, stealing the show as the lead in the colorful and catchy “America” full company dance number.
Another star of the show is Cinematographer Janusz Kaminski. Moving along with the characters, he breathes perspective into each scene, creating a immersive experience. Relevant themes including fear of change, prejudice, and love conquering all are thoughtfully delivered to a modern audience.