LOOKING FOR HOLIDAY GIFTS THEY'LL ENJOY?
"Equal and Opposite Reactions" http://amzn.to/2xvcgRa
and the sequel, "Hail Mary" https://www.amzn.com/1684334888
Available on Amazon.
I wasn't intending to see Steven Spielberg's updated remake of "West Side Story." The reviews I'd read touted this new version of the 1961 movie musical as having an expanded storyline and some changes that set the love story between Tony and Maria as secondary to the relevant social issues that the film expounds upon.
Now, I'm all about relevant social issues. But I'm not about messing with "West Side Story," which, if you ask me, is hard enough to get right even when a production sticks to the original script.
Prior to the release of the 2021 movie, I'd seen five different iterations of "West Side Story": The sublime movie with Natalie Wood and Richard Beymer, one of my favorite of favorite movies;
...three high school productions; and a 1976 Broadway tour shown at the Schubert Theater in Philadelphia starring Leslie Uggams as Maria.
I - along with the rest of the world - loved the movie. None of the "West Side Story" stage performances I subsequently saw were all that good. The problem with most of the stage productions was the character of Maria, an elusively difficult character to portray. None of the stage Marias I saw succeeded in capturing the mix of innocence, sweetness and strength that Natalie Wood gave the character in the movie. All the other Marias in the productions I saw somehow missed the mark and came across as kind of bratty and annoying. But again, Maria is a hard character to get right.
Still, all the high school "West Side Story" productions I saw were a sight better than that one Broadway production, which was by far the worst of the batch, mainly because Leslie Uggams was by far the worst Maria of the batch.
Part of the problem, I think, was that Leslie Uggams was in her mid-thirties at the time and looked every day of her age. She seemed more like Tony's mom. But the main problem for me was that she never got into the character of Maria - she was Leslie Uggams in concert. She never moved around much on the stage, even while singing "I feel pretty." The first time Leslie Uggams appeared on stage the audience applauded. When she sang the spotlight was on her, and the audience applauded afterwards. They - unlike me - were obviously there to see Leslie Uggams, not "West Side Story." As for the Sharks and the Jets, the director's idea must have been to have them show toughness and hostility by peppering their dialogue with "F... You," "Bulls...," and all the other standard obscenities to include flipping each other the finger on a regular basis. That concept was pretty ineffective and the whole production was kind of excruciating to sit through.
Hence I had no desire to sit through another excruciating "West Side Story," as I feared the Spielberg movie might be.
However I figured there was no harm in listening to the soundtrack. So I pulled up the "West Side Story" 2021 soundtrack on Youtube.
The soundtrack took me by surprise. It was beautiful. That is to say, even more beautiful than the original Broadway or movie musical soundtracks. There was something about the orchestration: Basically the same, but different, a few changes here and there, some variations of tempo and instrumentation. And the singers had the most wonderful voices. And there was a new song sung in Spanish. I was captivated by the music and the singing.
And so. because I loved the soundtrack, I decided to check out the movie. I went last Friday to an 11:25 am matinee with my sister Romaine. (We went at this early time in hopes of avoiding a COVID crowd. In fact there were only three other people in the theater besides us).
What did I think of this movie version of "West Side Story?" I loved it. that is to say, I love, love, LOVED it! It grabbed me from the opening scene of a slum neighborhood in the process of being demolished and held me, captivated me, transported me and gripped my heart for the next fleeting two-and-a-half hours.
Rachel Zegler was the perfect Maria,
...and the chemistry between her Maria and Ansel Elgort's Tony sparkled.
As for the expanded background and back stories added to this movie by screenwriter Tony Kushner, it felt like this was all the better to tell more explicitly what creators Jerome Robbins, Stephen Sondheim, Arthur Laurent and Leonard Bernstein knew and meant when they created the original "West Side Story" over sixty-five years ago. For example, in Spielberg's film it's obvious that the character of Anybody's is a transgender boy,
...something that most audience members wouldn't have understood (though some surely would have understood in secret) in 1957 when the musical first came to the stage, or in 1961 when it came to the movie screen,
...but that the original crafters of "West Side Story" obviously did.
So, I'm making the bold declaration: The new Steven Spielberg "West Side Story" is the best "West Side Story" of them all and, all due respect to Natalie Wood, Richard Beymer, et al, this one is my new favorite. And I'll definitely be catching another matinee.
by Patti Liszkay
Buy it on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0BTPN7NYY
by Patti Liszkay
Buy it on Amazon:
"Equal And Opposite Reactions"
by Patti Liszkay
Buy it on Amazon:
The Book Loft
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Or check it out at the Columbus Metropolitan Library
I am a traveler just visiting this planet and reporting various and sundry observations,
hopefully of interest to my fellow travelers.