Boy, boy, crazy boy, Stay loose, boy. Breeze it, buzz it, Easy does it, Turn off the juice, boy. Never before had I thought that snapping could be so intimidating but these Jets and Sharks know what they’re doing. West Side Story (1961) is a movie, based on the Broadway musical of the same name, about Tony and Maria, two star crossed lovers on opposite sides of a brewing turf war between rival gangs. Basically, its Romeo and Juliet but set in 1950s New York City. However, with its memorable songs, impeccable set design, and still relevant themes, West Side Story proves to be a timeless story.
You don’t have to be a big Broadway fan to know the music from West Side Story. You also don’t have to be a big Broadway fan to love the music. You just need two ears connected to a heart. Full credit to the actors, in some of these songs, they really make you feel in their singing. While the fact that most of the actors aren’t doing their own singing is pretty noticeable at some points, it hardly takes away from the performances as a whole. The performance of “Tonight”, captivating. The performance of “A Boy Like That”, fantastic. “One Hand, One Heart”, not a dry eye in the room. These songs are powerful and expertly help advance the story and give us an insight to the character’s thoughts and motivations. But not all the songs are super emotional. Every musical has to have their fun ones too. “Jets song”, “America”, “Gee, Officer Krupke”, and “Cool” are all super fun and enjoyable songs to watch and listen too. All these songs, emotional or fun, all work together to help make this musical stand the test of time. But would you really expect anything less from Stephen Sondheim? The music isn’t the only great thing about this movie, the set design was fantastic.
The set design in West Side Story is incredible. As it should be seeing that this movie won the Academy Award for “Best Art Direction”, which is what they called the production design award at the time. All the sets, with the help of the camera angels, makes the film feel like you are watching an actual recoding of a stage production of West Side Story. While the sets are much more complex than those you’d see on stage, the visual look and the feel of them give that vibe. Which, ultimately gives this movie a certain charm that is hard to ignore or even dislike. Additionally, all the costumes, for which they also won an Academy award, are all fantastic as well. This movie looks just as wonderful and charming as all the music sounds. Which creates a fantastic result.
Despite this movie being made in 1961, based on a musical from 1957, it is all too relevant to today. For starters; half the characters, the sharks, are Puerto Rican immigrants. The other half are a white gang, the Jets. Both groups feel frustrated in their situations. Both live in not the greatest conditions. Both don’t have great job prospects. This frustration manifests itself in their gang rivalries. While in the movie they say that they don’t know why they hate each other they just do, it’s pretty clear to the audience that it’s because of their own frustrations… and racism. Racism is a probably a pretty big part of it. The only two cops in the movie are openly in favor of the Jets winning the turf war. Even without the racism of it all, this movie is still pretty relevant to today. With how they display the struggles of poverty and immigration and the struggles of young people trying to find their way in a world that seems set to push them down. It’s all sadly too relevant to the struggles people have today.
West Side Story is a great movie. If you live in the U.S. then you can find it on Netflix and I highly recommend you do; the music is beautiful, the production design is incredible, and the themes are all too relevant to today’s world. I give West Side Story 7 snapping teenage gang members out of 10.