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Spielberg’s beautifully choreographed ‘West Side Story’ update hits every note

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08.12.2021

NEW YORK — As I snapped my fingers and danced my way into the critics’ screening of Steven Spielberg’s “West Side Story,” I asked a few of my colleagues which song from the show was their favorite. “‘Something’s Coming,’” one friend said. “It’s maybe the best musical theater tune of all time.”

“No,” another responded. “Nothing beats ‘Somewhere!’”

“I actually prefer ‘A Boy Like That,’” said a voice behind me, while another added, “It’s gotta be ‘America,’ c’mon!”

Of course, they are all right. And if someone had said “Maria,” “Cool,” “Tonight,” or even “The Dance at the Gym: Mambo” that would still be correct. They are all tied for first place.

The music to “West Side Story,” composed by Leonard Bernstein with lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, has few equals — a blend of Broadway-style show tunes elevated by Bernstein’s Western classical-informed genius, with a little jazz and (as the aforementioned “Mambo” suggests) Latin rhythms, too. And it just so happens that the story, a mid-century Manhattan update on William Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet,” ain’t bad either. If you want to call “West Side Story” the greatest of all musicals in the American theater canon, few would argue.

Which is why I am happy to report that this new film adaptation — in theaters December 9 and coming 60 years after the Oscar-winning best picture co-directed by Jerome Robbins and Robert Wise — not only lives up to the property’s pedigree, it’s one that ought to be treasured by all who memorized every note of that original soundtrack album.

The story is the same. A street gang of white nativists (The Jets) are “protecting their turf” against new Puerto Rican immigrants (The Sharks). While he was once the co-founder of the Jets, Tony (Ansel Elgort, who is Jewish on his father’s side) is trying to turn a corner from his violent youth. He catches the eye of........

© The Times of Israel


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