Felipa’s Flicks: Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story

El Paso News

EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) – It’s the film that we have been waiting for all year. Steven Spielberg’s “West Side Story,” opened in Theaters yesterday, with everyone wondering whether the film is as good as the original Academy Award winning musical or is it fair to make comparisons?

The Great Bob Fosse said it best in his film, “All That Jazz”… Everything Old is New Again. This is certainly the case in this multi million dollar production with Steven Spielberg behind the camera. The Romeo and Juliet Story of the 1950’s comes back to life in a much more vibrant, colorful way, showing life on the New York Streets and young natives of Puerto Rico, working to try to accept it all and be acclimated to a system that is not at all fair. 

The all new West Side Story is simply an incredible production, and not just a remake but a reinvention of the classic. Choreographer Justin Peck is inspired by the Jerome Robbins original choreography, but also seems to create  even more energetic dance sequences. The music of the late Stephen Sondheim and Leonard Bernstein continues to dominate, but songs in Spanish allow the characters to express themselves in ways that  would not have worked in 1961.

It is the same story, with new and different nuances to make it all  the more spectacular and poignant. When “West Side Story,” was made, it immediately followed the success of a Broadway production. In Hollywood fashion, Natalie Wood, a star with no singing skills, was cast as Maria. Rachel Zegler, an incredible newcomer with a beautiful voice is Maria.  The Jets and their families wore dark make-up in the original production, including Rita Moreno, who co-stars in the new film and is also an Executive Producer. Here Latinos play Latinos and it works very well. 

The Jets are young, and attempt to take over the streets with great futility. It’s a world that neither the Jets nor the Sharks can grasp and love simply does not conquer all. A weak spot is the casting of Ansel Elgort as Tony, a retired Jet if you will, who falls in love with Maria at first sight. He is a little stiff, and perhaps that is because the energy all around him is overwhelming.

The star of the film is Ariana De Bose, the new Anita, who has power, strength and vitality and is a top notch dancer and actress. The original role of Doc, the shop owner has been changed to Valentina, played by Rita Moreno, who offers sound advice at all intervals to both sides, and in the infamous scene where Anita is genuinely trying to help the sharks, appears to be rescuing a younger version of herself. 

I was truly reticent about this remake. I gave it a chance and I am glad that I did. It is strong and powerful and without comparisons, provides a whole new dimension to the story to an entirely new generation. 

Steven Spielberg’s “West Side Story” | Official Trailer | 20th Century Studios – YouTube– Trailer

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