“West Side Story” comes to theaters 60 years after the original movie

The Broadway classic brings the streets of 1950s New York City to screens around the world

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(CC BY-SA 4.0)

The lively choreography has a lot of the original moves from the ‘60s film.

Megan Pawlak

A double pirouette and the gangs of New York City is a combination one would never consider; perhaps there is one exception. With its influences of Puerto Rican culture, the 1950s, and classic Broadway, West Side Story hits theaters with a new, yet still iconic version of the original 1961 film. 

Set in the 1950s, West Side Story is based on Shakespeare’s famous play, Romeo and Juliet. The romantic musical film features two gangs, the Jets and the Sharks. The Jets are native New Yorkers living in the slums; the Sharks consist of all Puerto Ricans starting their new lives in America. 

One night, Riff from the Jets pulls his best friend, Tony, out of the basement of a local drug store to a community dance. Along with the Jets, the Sharks also make an appearance including the leader, Bernardo, his girlfriend, Anita, his younger sister, María, and María’s date, Chino. Tony and María spot each other amidst the crowd and immediately fall in love, despite the rivalry between their communities. During a rumble the following day between the two gangs, Bernardo stabs Riff which leads to Tony killing Bernardo. While getting ready to run away with María, Chino avenges Bernardo’s death by murdering Tony in front of all the Jets and María. 

This new West Side Story film has all of the original songs and scores from when it first debuted on Broadway in 1957. Written by Leonard Bernstein, the soundtrack contains the full spectrum of musical theatre songs: sweet soprano ballads, intense group numbers, romantic love songs, and striking comedic pieces. Any musical theatre fan would know the iconic songs like “America”, “Maria”, and “I Feel Pretty”.

Although the music is sung in mostly English, almost all of the scenes contain fragments of Spanish here and there. In scenes with just the Sharks, almost all of the lines are in Spanish with only a couple of key sentences translated. To fully experience the movie, viewers who know some Spanish would have the upper hand, but it is definitely not needed to enjoy. 

The cast and crew of West Side Story have some big names in the industry but also names not yet known to many. Steven Spielberg directed and co-produced the movie with Rita Moreno, who starred as Anita in the original film and as Valentina in the new version. Ansel Elgort played Tony, David Alvarez as Bernardo, and Ariana Debose as Anita. The newest name of the film is Rachel Zegler who plays María; this is the 20-year-old actress’s debut film, and she did not at all disappoint. The combination of her vocals, dancing, and chemistry with co-star Ansel Elgort leaves viewers wondering why she did not debut sooner. 

This new West Side Story movie created the iconic, classic performance that has become few and far between. As movie musicals become more popular like Hamilton and In the Heights, West Side Story is a fantastic example to follow with regard to casting, choreography, vocals, and overall beauty.