My relationship with this musical goes all the way back to my 9 year old self. Little me is in middle school in Chicago, singing Robin Hood the musical. Watching jealously while the high schoolers perform West Side Story. Yes, that was my first exposure to this great work of art. Needless to say, I memorized every single word and song, watching the first version of the film hundreds of times.
Fast forward to 2016 when a performing arts group in Jakarta decided to stage West Side Story. DAYUM. I eventually met the director, Fonnyta Amran (check out our podcast episode)! We even worked together with her on the Last Five Years musical production.
And then. Then Steven Spielberg is set to do a remake. And fresh breath revives the modern tragedy of Tony and Maria.
Spielberg’s version brought tears to my eyes all over again. For those of you that shame love at first sight, please watch West Side Story. I mean, these two youngsters meet at a dance and over the course of 3 days manages to fall in love, get married, get a lot of people killed, and bring peace to their warring gangs. There you go. Love at first sight does exist (if only in musicals, you say, and in Shakespeare).
I enjoyed most the perfect balance of new and old. Old favorites like the gym mambo dance, the railing duet, the Jets song are preserved next to a change of scenery for “America”, “Cool”, and “One Hand, One Heart”. I love that Spielberg manages to keep the spirit of these songs even though the setting is updated. Sometimes of them even gets a shuffle in order appearance! There were enough pleasant surprises such as the strengthening of Anita’s character (Ariana Debose stole the show!), Rita Moreno playing as Doc’s widow, and Tony beating up Bernardo that I had HOPE. A small spark of illogical, dangerous hope that in this version, Tony and Maria would somehow make it on that bus and be able to finally live. Alas, West Side Story remains a tragedy still, and there isn’t yet a place for those two.
Off now to drown myself in happily ever after rom-coms so the tragic cloud can pass.