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Photo: ‘West Side Story’
The release of the new re-adaptation of ‘West Side Story’ has arrived on the big screen, and after a slight delay due to COVID-19, the new musical blockbuster certainly filled my past theater-kid heart in a way that I haven’t felt in a while. Through its beautiful cinematography, multiple-times re-written script, and performances from all of the actors, the 2021 version of ‘West Side Story’ is a romantic breath of fresh air to watch during this cold (and cozy) season that will surely get you singing the songs to yourself on the way home from the theater.
Steven Spielberg’s adaptation proves to audiences that a classic can be brought back; something that strives to serve its long-time (and new) fans with something they can be happy with watching. And, at the same time, revamping this piece of art to bring forth even more progression and a more deeply (and emotionally) impactful story to give the audience opportunities to connect more within this wondrous musical.
“There’s A Place For Us, Somewhere A Place For Us”
Steven Spielberg’s version still follows the classic story that fans all know and love, and brings back our two adoring star-crossed lovers in such a way that you can’t help but be in complete awe of them. The story follows a young man and woman, Tony and Maria, experiencing love-at-first-sight at a high school dance in 1950s New York City. Being from two different ethnic backgrounds, their romance causes the feud between the two rival gangs (the Jets and the Sharks) to become even stronger as it becomes forbidden for their love to blossom any further. In general, it can be said without hesitation that this story, plainly based on Shakespeare’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’, becomes something nearly unlike any other story based on the 1597 tale. Within itself, ‘West Side Story’ seems to be forming a newfound story based on a literarily impactful one to truly bring audiences into both a world of familiarity and distance.
‘West Side Story’ Full Commentary & Reactions – Rita Moreno, Steven Spielberg, Rachel Zegler
This element especially rings true in regards to Spielberg’s version of the story, mainly thanks to the few small added changes to the script while still being true to the original book/stageplay. The aspect of this division between the two groups based on their ethnic background, and how that affects them, becomes prominent in this version specifically. We’re pulled into these different worlds and see how each side handles everything that’s been thrown to them; and most of all, as the audience, we witness just how a young couple’s relationship fights to survive as they navigate through sticking together when everyone else around them wants to tear them apart from each other.
Overall, through the use of aspects (such as not including subtitles when Spanish is spoken and giving the Puerto Rican characters more developed backstories) the 2021 version of ‘West Side Story’ feels as though it truly is what it seems to say it is underneath the surface: a 2021 re-telling of a classic story.
“I Want To Make A Life, A Home”
In essence, a lot of love and care seemed to go into Spielberg’s hard work behind wanting to re-adapt a well-known story that’s been adored by many. Spielberg’s techniques of staying true to the general story, yet still adding elements that would make this film be more progressive and start a conversation amongst audiences, perfectly convey the nostalgia of an original piece of work released about sixty years ago. And, while the small changes to the script make this version of ‘West Side Story’ fit more into a 2021 re-telling of a classic story, it is ultimately through the choice of cast and technicalities of production that seem to make the film a yearning and exuberant piece of Cinema.
‘West Side Story’ NY Premiere & Reactions – Rita Moreno, Steven Spielberg, Rachel Zegler
Starting with the cast, it feels as though they brought the magical use of the theatrics to life (while also maintaining the fact that it’s still considered a film rather than the traditional theater production) by their performances alone. Rachel Zegler (playing Maria) and Ansel Elgort (playing Tony) do a magnificent job as both singers and actors in their rendition of the lovestruck duo. Zegler shows that she could interpret Maria’s character in her way, while still maintaining the essence laid before her with Natalie Wood and Carol Lawerence’s versions; and Elgort does the same except with Richard Beymer and Larry Kert. However, it is admittable that the chemistry between Zegler and Elgort feels a tad bit lackluster; mostly because it felt as though there was some hesitation to fully portray a romantic bond based on true love with one another.
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But, this doesn’t take away the Cinema magic that can be found throughout the film; along with how it doesn’t discredit the hard work and talent that Zelger and Elgort were able to contain with their characters. On another hand, the other actors did a fantastic job in their roles as well like Ariana DeBose (as Anita), Mike Faist (as Riff), and especially the iconic Rita Moreno; who plays a brand new character named Valentina (Doc’s widow). Altogether, these actors sang (and danced) their hearts out in such a way that you can’t help but be charmed, and go into an exciting musical trance because of them.
‘West Side Story’ LA Premiere & Reactions – Rita Moreno, Steven Spielberg, Rachel Zegler
With the cinematography, coupled with overall the color scheme, this version of ‘West Side Story’ stays coherent with the beautiful cinematic look of classic Hollywood that made the original movie so charming and nostalgic. While not being shot on film, Janusz Kaminski’s cinematography work does an incredible job at capturing the essence of it being filmed on such. The effort put into the costumes also seems to complement this aspect as well, with Paul Tazewell’s (who’s also done costume design on ‘Hamilton’) clothes fitting within the time; which pulls us into this world even more.
Lastly, another piece in this charismatic musical journey that makes this a cinematic work of art is the music. We all know and love this music, and a few changes (but very little) have been made; but regardless, these changes benefit the way the film attempted to convey a more built-up and progressive version of ‘West Side Story’. We were lucky to have Stephen Sondheim (may he Rest in Peace) work on this film as he was the original lyricist, and changes to the music in this film wouldn’t have felt as magical if it wasn’t for Sondheim helping to conjure it up. All of the actors serve Sondheim’s past (and current) greatness of lyricism with the talent of their voices, and the dancing that accompanies them.
“Tonight, The World Is Full Of Light”
In the long run, the 2021 version of ‘West Side Story’ takes our hand through a journey that we’ve all known and loved for so long; but now, this time, it brings forth more opportunities for more audiences to relate to the characters and see a revolutionary story be put on the big screen in the most respectful way possible. This version of ‘West Side Story’ felt like it was taking theatrical nostalgia, and turning it around to be even shinier and more enchantingly yearnful than we had ever seen before. As said before, ‘West Side Story’ is now a magnificent 2021 re-telling of a classic story while still respectfully maintaining the time it was originally taking place in.
‘West Side Story’ fans have been given so much love and care that Spielberg feels as though they all deserved. A story filled with a cast of characters played by the ethnicities they were representing, and depicting the hardships they had faced during that time, proving just how endearing the story of ‘West Side Story’ can be for audiences of any age or gender, or race. Overall, we’re progressing towards brighter and better things; and by using an older story that audiences loved (and where some felt as though they were seen to a degree after watching it) and twisting it to be a more faithful take proves that things can be changed for the better and make you feel possibly even more nostalgic than before.
By Leah Donato
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