West Side Story, The musical that first premiered on Broadway in 1957 is timeless.
Eternal works of art can be endlessly transformed, in the same way that West Side Story (! Love without barriers “) turned Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, with a balcony scene, into the story of Tony and Maria, young lovers of confronted ethnic communities in a crumbling New York.
There was a magical and unique quality to the initial release from West Side Story: the heartbreaking and beautiful music of Leonard Bernstein; the scathing but romantic lyrics of Stephen Sondheim; the book by Arthur Laurents and the classically inspired choreography by Jerome Robbins.
And there is a similar alchemy in the glorious remake. Masterfully directed by Steven SpielbergWith a cleverly conceived script by Tony Kushner and crisp new choreography by Justin Peck, the film honors the roots of the original production while giving it a 21st century sensibility.
It is a film full of energy, wit, passion and tragedy, looking back and forth. It is one of the most exciting of the year.
This remake is still set in 1957, and the artifice of the set where it occurs, with residential buildings and vacant lots, is deliberate, evoking the theatrical origins of the story.
But the film is also purely cinematic in the way the camera tells the story, pouncing on the center of a musical number in a gym, gazing down at the dancers filling the streets, closely watching Tony (Ansel Elgort ) and Maria (Rachel Zegler) as they fall in love.
The 1961 film version may have won 10 Oscars, but it is hopelessly tied to a stage, as used to be the case with musical films of the 1960s. In Spielberg’s this does not happen.
The opening scene marks another important difference.
The camera passes over the rubble of an area recently cleared by the New York Housing Authority, to make way for the new Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts.
Both Puerto Ricans and poor white residents of the area are on the verge of being displaced, and Kushner’s script relies heavily on such disenfranchisement in real lifeas well as ethnic rivalry.
The film spends perhaps too much time preparing for this conflict and featuring the Sharks, the Puerto Rican gang led by Maria’s brother, Bernardo (David Álvarez), and the Jets, the white gang founded by Tony and his best friend, Riff (Mike Faist. ).
But dance and music are kinetic.
Peck’s choreography maintains the DNA of the Robbins original but adds an athleticism that makes her feel fresh. Spinning and hopping through the streets of New York’s Upper West Side, the Sharks and Jets remain the most athletic punks of all time.
One of the variations on Kushner is to give Tony a new story.
Here he is on probation, having spent a year in prison for beating another man almost to death, an experience that has left him determined to reform. It can be difficult to accept the character change from criminal to sentient soul, but this adds another layer of tragic irony.
And in the movie’s most inspired innovation, the pharmacy where Tony works is no longer owned by a man named Doc, but by his widow, Valentina. With a sharp and friendly gaze, she is interpreted with a focused calm by nothing more and nothing less than Rita Moreno, who won the Oscar for best supporting actress as Bernardo’s girlfriend, Anita, in the original film.
Now, there are those who venture that Moreno may be eligible for a new statuette.
Moreno and Valentina merge to become the soul and the conscience of this new version.
But the essence of West Side Story it is still his unfortunate love story.
Tony and Maria finally meet at a dance at a gym. Anita, in a dynamic performance with nuances of Ariana DeBose, is the center of attention, swirling in her lap and dancing to the Latin rhythms that permeate the film.
But soon Tony and Maria’s eyes meet and find themselves under the bleachers performing a graceful, silent dance of their own. Elgort’s serious portrayal gives Tony heartfelt sincerity, and Zegler, in his first movie role, is the ideal Maria, a young woman brimming with life and hope.
Bernardo, furious that this white boy even looks at his sister, forces them to separate, but by then their bond has already taken hold.
This is where the movie really takes off, soaring. As Tony walks the nighttime streets singing “Maria,” Elgort’s voice is clear and light, capturing the euphoria of Bernstein’s music.
Hearing the lyrics just days after Sondheim’s death is a reminder of how irreplaceable it was.
Tony finds Maria and climbs the fire escape to her window, which overlooks a courtyard where clothes are hanging between the buildings. If we do not believe in their unlikely love affair at first sight, nothing in West Side Story Can work.
But Zegler and Elgort are completely convincing. Zegler’s face is innocent and full of passion, and his voice strong and beautiful as they sing Tonight. Spielberg dramatically stages this balcony scene as they run back and forth up the fire escape, but intimately through his use of close-ups, capturing the sexual tension of their encounter.
The sequence of “Maria” and Tonight create the most exquisite episode of the movie. But we know a fight is coming between the Jets and the Sharks, and it can’t end well.
None of the score goes to waste, as Bernstein’s melodies flow in and out of the soundtrack with graceful ease.
In other highlights, DeBose brings a volatile joy to the subject. America, a sequence staged as an elaborate dance down the stairs of his house towards the streets of his neighborhood. Zegler Gets Its Own Vibrant Centerpiece In I Feel Pretty.
But the most eloquent and moving moment is that of Moreno. (This should not be a spoiler, but if you are especially sensitive to disclosures, skip to the last paragraph.) The song Somewhere, usually sung by lovers as an expression of hope, is now sung by Valentina, alone in her tent. after learning that there have been two deaths, one caused by Tony.
Moreno makes the letter There’s a place for us a calm and sad expression of pain for all the lost hopes that surround her. She and DeBose, who is as good at expressing sadness as she is at conveying fiery energy, master the powerful last part of the film.
Spielberg is wise enough to know that the first West Side Story it was unique.
He has created his own miracle, a film with a diverse cast and social conscience for today that encompasses all that is sublime in its incomparable origin.
It makes perfect sense that the film’s premiere took place at Lincoln Center, completing a timeless circle, on and off screen.
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Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.