There is nothing more beautiful, than experiencing love at first sight. It is something I never believed could happen until I saw, ‘West Side Story’. I discovered this musical when I was fifteen years old and it opened my mind, in terms of how a musical can really dig out all your emotions and make you feel. I always loved Shakespeare’s story of, ‘Romeo and Juliet’, it was beautiful, heartbreaking and the end left you wanting good to come out of it. But it was not meant to be. What is great about doing an adaptation of a classic play and putting it into a mix of modern day life, is that there are so many avenues you could take. And that is what was perfectly done with ‘West Side Story’.
The prologue grabs your attention instantly. Here you have two different groups of men, both in race, colour, and values. They both want to fight for their turf, and you can see all their emotion behind this longing. And that emotion comes through their movement, every dance step is a feeling, a yearning. And you can see it boil over their skin. The most noticeable performance in the epilogue goes to George Chakiris who plays Bernardo. That is how a real man conveys his feeling through dance. He was so elegant and strong, and watching him dance in several scenes, is just a treat for your eyes and for your soul. Here is the prologue, cannot tell you how much I love this.
The love between Tony and Maria is pure, because they don’t see each other’s past, or race, they only see one another. All those other variables that matters to The Jets and The Sharks do not matter to Tony and Maria. And that is what love’s about, accepting this lovely person in front of you for who they are. As much as I do enjoy the love story between Tony and Maria, there were times where I believe Tony should have been more subtle about the love. But at the same time I could see why he was so vocal about being in love, because this was what he was waiting for, he wanted to share his happiness with the world, and who could blame him? Maria may be young and slightly naive she listens to her heart, and she cannot deny her love for someone, who her family and friends will dislike on the basis of their culture. Maria knows nothing of being unkind, spiteful or hateful; these are not actions or emotions that she understands. But at the end of the film, she learns how hateful humanity can be.
The relationship between Bernardo and Anita is just explosive, but in the right way. They are very playful, and are constantly making subtle digs at one another, but their love is electric. While they may not be the core of this film, their relationship proves to be great comedic relief from the seriousness of the film. I find with a great musical, you can always balance drama and comedy very well if you have the right storyline, dialogue and the right actors to portray these characters. George Chakiris and Rita Moreno won Best Supporting Actor and Actress titles for 'West Side Story' and deservedly so! I enjoy their relationship because they just bounce off each other very well and their chemistry is extremely strong, anyone would think they would have been a couple outside of this film.
The musical numbers in ‘West Side Story’ are incredible, and I do not believe any musical has come close to that height of perfection since. There are two music numbers in particular which I find really bring something more to the table. Firstly, you cannot go past ‘America’. The song is quite comedic, because while they are singing of the things that are great and not so great about living in America, they poke fun at themselves. And that comedic streak adds a lot of charm to the scene. The choreography is just out of this world for this scene, and you can see all of the actors making it look easy but truth be told they worked their butts off to get it perfect. My second favourite musical number is the quintet version of the song ‘Tonight’. It is brilliantly scored, and set out in terms of emotion and what the characters are trying to convey. You have four different point of views, all point of views crave and want something, whether it’s waiting for your love, or waiting for your love of the turf to finally be yours tonight. I also think it adds more depth to the original version of ‘Tonight’ which is previously sang by Tony and Maria in a different scene. Here is the video for the quintet version of 'Tonight'. You will see how really powerful this is.
Obviously the ending of ‘West Side Story’ is heartbreaking, no matter how many times I have seen it, I cry...A LOT. You must be thinking, ‘You have seen it once, why on earth would you keep crying at something, you know is inevitable?’ It’s the message behind what happens, that is so heartbreaking and it is a big reality check. At the end, everyone has come together and witnessed something terrible, but it’s what all their hate has caused. Nothing good can ever come from hate. For that split second you may feel powerful, and invincible, but hate is ugly and only causes pain around you. Having hate kill purity in such a spiteful manner is woeful.
‘West Side Story’ is a magical piece of cinema, and embodies everything that is perfect about musicals. It has a strong story with a tonne of depth, which is conveyed beautifully by all of the actors. It has out of this world choreography which goes hand in hand perfectly with musical score. Do not get turned off by musicals, because they hold a lot more emotion than people give them credit for. Music and choreography together may seem ‘camp’ or ‘silly’, but when you have such strong emotion seeping through beautiful choreography, it is hard not to feel something.