The musical Spielberg was waiting to do
Steven Spielberg has never done a musical, but his latest film, an adaptation of the classic “West Side Story”, is something he has been preparing for his entire career. Wasn’t there always something quite ballet-like in the camera in Spielberg’s films? Indiana Jones may not have burst into song, but the action sequences are choreographed as fluidly as anything in a Fred Astaire movie.
Think about the number of iconic scores from a Spielberg film, “Jaws”, “Jurassic Park,” “ET: The extra-terrestrial” and “Indiana Jones” to name a few, and you will be able to see that he understands the use of film music, editing techniques, and camera movements that energize the notes. This talent is fully on display in “West Side Story”. The camera slides and dances with the characters, and the editing avoids the jerky cuts that have infiltrated so many modern film musicals, allowing audiences to connect with the characters and get carried away by the emotions.
One of the best scores
The musical first premiered on Broadway in 1957, bringing Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet to contemporary New York City with a score by Leonard Bernstein, lyrics by the recently deceased Stephen Sondheim, and catchy, athletic choreography. by Jerome Robbins. Bernstein’s score is one of the greatest ever written, combining the tenants of operas and symphonies with a grand romantic effect. It would introduce songs such as “Maria”, “Tonight”, “America” and “I Feel Pretty” which have become theater standards, performed in each series of auditions for high school choirs and musicals.
Spielberg and Tony Kushner, who wrote the screenplay, don’t attempt to update the show, but instead shed light on different themes, intensify the racial tensions inherent in the text, and strengthen characterization. All of the Sharks are performed by Latinx actors and dancers, and their dialogue includes much of the unsubtitled Spanish. The filmmakers illustrate what makes the text so indelible, why we’ve returned to the story of Romeo and Juliet since its first performance at the Globe Theater, all while creating something fresh and vibrant. Spielberg and Kushner removed all the fat build-up and found the heart of the work.
“Romeo and Juliet” in 1957 in New York
In “West Side Story,” the “two households that both resemble each other in dignity” are rival street gangs, the White Jets and the Puerto Rican Sharks, who fight for control of land in which the Lincoln is built. Center looms ominously. The Jets are led by Riff, played by Mike Faist with the charisma and intensity of a powder keg about to go out. The Sharks are led by Bernardo (David Alvarez), a boxer who watches over his newly arrived younger sister Maria (Rachel Zegler) from Puerto Rico. As soon as Bernardo warns Maria to stay away from the “gringo boys”, the audience knows what’s going to happen, and quickly Maria looks at retired Jet member Tony (Ansel Elgort) across the street. a dance floor.
In her first movie role, Zegler gives a true “Star is Born” performance as Maria. She has an enchanting and childish Audrey Hepburn quality, countering the naive innocence of the characters with intelligence, bringing a charming comedic touch to “I Feel Pretty”. It’s a rich and rich performance that makes Maria something so much more than an ingenuous who sings love songs. The same can’t be said for Elgort, who, while not bad enough to derail scenes, never gets over the moon inherent in Tony (and Romeo) and plays the character as if he was doing a print of James Dean and Marlon Brando combined. Zegler and Elgort both have clear and charming voices.
As the cast improves on the whitewash of the Broadway original and the Oscar-winning film for Best Picture in 1961, it falters over Jerome Robbin’s choreography. Still, Spielberg shows enough inventiveness and energy to give the film a life of its own. It’s an enchanting and graceful fairy tale that I hope will make a lot of people a fan of musicals.