Blu-ray Review: Solid 50th Anniversary Package For ‘West Side Story’

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CHICAGO – If you are looking for a sumptuous present for the film musical admirer in your life, look no further than the Blu-ray 50th Anniversary package of “West Side Story.” The classic Broadway-to-screen adaptation won 10 Oscars, including the coveted Best Picture.

HollywoodChicago.com Blu-ray Rating: 4.5/5.0
Blu-ray Rating: 4.5/5.0

“West Side Story” is one of the more stunning musical theater achievements in Broadway history, with a creative dream team of composer Leonard Bernstein, lyricist Stephen Sondheim and director/choreographer Jerome Robbins. The film version honors the source material, with Robert Wise sharing a director credit with Robbins (it was the first co-director Oscar win in history). Combining the mind-blowing score, witty prose lyrics and dance talent of the one-of-a-kind cast, “West Side Story” changed the energy of what a musical could be.

Basically a retelling of Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet,” the story substitutes New York City street gangs, the Jets and Sharks, for the warring Capulets and Montagues. Riff (Russ Tamblyn) is the leader of the Jets, and he leads his fellow Caucasian warriors through the streets against the Puerto Rican Sharks, led by Bernardo (George Chakiris). Keep them in check is Schrank (Simon Oakland), a police detective aided by the famous Officer Krupke (William Bramley).

There’s a Place: Tony (Richard Beymer) and Maria (Natalie Wood) in ‘West Side Story’
There’s a Place: Tony (Richard Beymer) and Maria (Natalie Wood) in ‘West Side Story’
Photo credit: MGM /20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

When a big dance at the school brings the two gangs reluctantly together, included in the revelers is Bernardo’s girlfriend Anita (Rita Moreno), his sister Maria (Natalie Wood) and Riff’s best friend Tony (Richard Beymer). When Tony and Maria meet, it is love at first sight. These two star-crossed lovers now have to deal with the warring gangs, Anita’s general disapproval and the mean streets of New York City.

The songs on the soundtrack have basically all become standards. “Jet Song,” “Something’s Coming,” “Maria,” “America,” “Tonight,” “I Feel Pretty.” “Somewhere,” “Cool,” “Gee, Officer Krupke,” the list goes on and on. What really becomes apparent when revisiting the score is the unbelievable rhyme and rhythm that Bernstein and Sondheim achieve. Sondheim is at the top of his game with couplets like “I feel pretty/Oh, so pretty/That the city should give me its key/A committee/Should be organized to honor me.” Ah, Sondheim.

When paired with the incredible choreography of Jerome Robbins, these songs simply come alive. The intensity of the movement in “Cool,” is one of the most vivid dance sequences put to film, and as legend has it, the exhausted young dancers, angry at Jerome Robbins for ordering take after take on this number, burned their dancer’s knees pad afterward in front of his office door (Robbins was later fired from the production, but still got co-director credit). The “America” dance sequence is what probably got Rita Moreno her Oscar, and the unforgettable “Prologue” Sharks and Jets confrontation sets the table memorably by opening the film.

’West Side Story’ 50th Anniversary Package on Blu-ray
West Side Story’ 50th Anniversary Package on Blu-ray
Photo credit: MGM /20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

The cast is a little less on the mark. In a HollywoodChicago.com interview, Russ Tamblyn (Riff) complained how Richard Beymer wasn’t right for Tony, but the actor has a certain enlightened quality as a man in love. Natalie Wood, whose singing voice was dubbed in the film by Marni Nixon, makes up for it by expressing a happy-go-lucky innocence as Maria. She kills the “I Feel Pretty” number. George Chakiris is so lithe and present in his movements as Bernardo, he probably wrapped up his surprise Oscar in the opening sequence alone, but his acting is a little wooden.

The Blu-ray extras are tremendous. Two documentaries, “A Place for Us, West Side Story’s Legacy” and “West Side Memories” are both excellent, the second one reuniting the cast, Sondheim and production crew. Sondheim does commentary on all the musical numbers, and there is special dance mode that does a movie-on-movie during the choreography. The film has never looked better, with it’s brilliant color palette, all the hues of the Saul Bass opening and closing credits popping from the screen.

If there is any flaw, it’s the length of the film and dated dialogue between musical numbers. But those are minor complaints against the music, dance vitality and emotion of the film. There’s always a place in the heart for “West Side Story.”

The 50th Anniversary Blu-ray of “West Side Story’ was released on November 15th, 2011, by MGM Home Entertainment and 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment. Featuring Natalie Wood, Richard Beymer, Rita Moreno, George Chakiris, Russ Tamblyn. Score by Leonard Bernstein, Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. Screenplay by Ernest Lehman. Directed by Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins. Not Rated. For the HollywoodChicago.com interview of Russ Tamblyn, Rita Moreno and George Chakiris of “West Side Story,” click here.

HollywoodChicago.com senior staff writer Patrick McDonald

By PATRICK McDONALD
Senior Staff Writer
HollywoodChicago.com
pat@hollywoodchicago.com

© 2011 Patrick McDonald, HollywoodChicago.com

ljohns59@uic.edu's picture

saw the revival at the

saw the revival at the Caddy Palace.

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