Winter Review: West Side Story

I recently saw Steven Spielberg’s retelling of the classic musical “West Side Story”. I enjoyed the love story a great deal. Spielberg and his cast and crew did a great job in this remake. I saw “West Side Story” with Natalie Wood many years ago on one of the cable classic movie channels and loved it. I expected to enjoy “West Side Story” and I wasn’t disappointed.

After watching “West Side Story” in the theater I found my CD of the music from the 1961 Natalie Wood version of the film. The new release of “West Side Story” follows the older one closely. “West Side Story” debuted on stage in 1957. It became a Hollywood film in 1961. Gentrification, economic stress, immigration and racial tension are all plot points in the film. All of these matters appear in current news.

The character of Anita which was played by Rita Moreno in 1961 was played by Ariana DeBose in 2021. Ariana has visible, significant African ancestry which gave the cast diversity without seeming forced. Many remakes these days cast a Black person in a part formerly played by a White person and it can come across contrived and forced. This casting choice worked well.

The role of Anybodys was memorable in the 1961 version of WSS. In the 1961 version Anybodys was just thought of as a tomboy. In the 2021 version her gender identity and sexuality was more well defined. Anybodys played an important role in the film. She badly wanted to be accepted by the Jets as one of the boys. She was largely ignored because she was a woman who was not traditionally attractive and feminine. Since she moved about in relative anonymity she was able to act as a spy for the Jets. The representation of this openly gender fluid character was a nice modern touch to this classic musical.

This film is solid. The singing and visuals was were great. The acting was first rate. It’s a great love story. The film award’s season is around the corner and I expect “West Side Story” to receive a great deal of recognition. I recommend it.

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