By: Sanjana Chadive
Musical theater has tremendously influenced American culture; in most cases, people go to Broadway to watch these shows. Two of the most well-known composers in the history of musical theater are Andrew Lloyd Webber and Leonard Bernstein. Webber is the mind behind Evita, The Phantom of the Opera, Cats, and many more. While the late Bernstein does not have as many works to his name, he has written and composed two of the most famous musicals of all time: On the Town and West Side Story, the latter of the two being my favorite musical.
Having earned the title “the most acclaimed musical of all time” and the 1961 film adaption winning ten Oscars at the 1962 Academy Awards, West Side Story made American citizens appreciate musicals more when it first came out. The story follows a young man, Tony, and woman, Maria, who fall in love; however, they come from rival gangs, the Jets and the Sharks. Truth be told, I have never seen the show on Broadway, but I have watched the movie and listen to the soundtrack almost every day, therefore I do have a thorough understanding of the story–and why it’s so great.
The main reason I fell in love with West Side Story, was because of its music. All of the songs are catchy, and most of them are backed by an intricate instrumentation. While there are some compositions I enjoy more than others, West Side Story does not feature any songs that make my ears bleed. My favorite pieces from the soundtrack are “Tonight (Quintet)” and “Somewhere”, both featured in the second act of the film. These two songs simultaneously capture the love between Maria and Tony, the two young lovers, and the chaos surrounding them. Additionally, “Somewhere” was named the 20th greatest song in American film history. Numerous covers of “Somewhere” have been performed in the last fifty years by famous artists, most notably Barbra Streisand. I do not think I would have enjoyed West Side Story as much as I did if the music was at a more lackluster level.
West Side Story also features some great acting. Two of the Oscars the film won were “Best Supporting Actor” and “Best Supporting Actress”, for George Chakiris and Rita Moreno, respectively. Moreno steals the show as Anita, the lover of Chakiris’s character, Bernardo. Bernardo, the older brother of Maria, is the leader of the Sharks, therefore he holds a deep hatred for the Jets. To add, Bernardo also dislikes America (He, Maria, and the rest of the sharks are Puerto Rican), whereas Anita loves the country; the opposing views between the couple make up the composition of one of the musical’s most famous songs, “America”. Furthermore, Natalie Wood and Richard Beymer, the actors who play Maria and Tony, perfectly encapsulate the feelings of the two young forbidden lovers. The two performers effortlessly displayed the naivety and innocent love shared between their characters, contrasting the tumultuous relationship between their gangs. In order for an audience to enjoy a showing West Side Story, whether it be the film or the stage musical, the acting mustn’t be subpar, because the story is an emotional one, therefore the acting must be able to capture the feelings of happiness and despair.
Prior to watching West Side Story, I did not enjoy musicals as much as I do now. I am extremely happy that I came across this film; otherwise, I would have still thought that musicals have no substance whatsoever (which is completely false) and I probably would have never joined GVHS stage crew. I highly recommend West Side Story to musical enthusiasts who have yet to watch the masterpiece and even those who are not into musicals. If you belong to the latter, then your mindset will most likely change after watching West Side Story.