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Movie Review: West Side Story (2021)

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

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.

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Movie Review: Everybody’s Talking About Jamie

Out of the darkness…into the spotlight…

That song is now forever cemented in my head. I must also join the hype for this one and also talk about Jamie! In short, Everybody’s Talking About Jamie is a musical movie about a high school boy Jamie who decides he wants to wear a dress to prom.

The events of the few weeks leading up to the prom become touching and emotional as Jamie gets mixed receptions to his intentions. His best friend Preeti and his mother supports him, while his teacher, some macho bullies, and his father opposes him. Another key figure is a mentor who teaches him the ways of a professional drag queen.

The stage musical came before the movie, and it was inspired by a documentary titled Jamie: Drag Queen at 16.


It’s a musical so let’s talk about the songs. In short, they are fabulous. Put them on your Spotify play loop now and you’ll see what I mean.

The lyrics by Tom McRae are realistic and not forced, with a lot of witty humor. The melodies are simple and memorable – it reminds me of Les Misérables’ songs. Indeed the composer Dan Gillespie Sells said he connected with Jamie’s story and therefore could write the songs in a way that was hopeful and confident instead of tropic and cliché.

Some of my favorite are Spotlight (I covered it on my IG channel), Over the Top, and Everybody’s Talkin About Jamie. My Man, Your Boy is touching but whenever I listen to it I cry and bawl and sometimes I don’t want to cry and bawl, but this song makes me so emotional every single time). So it’s on my “emotional” lists not my “play all the time” list.


Just like the composer, I love stories like Everybody’s Talking About Jamie. It’s got a timeframe which is well defined ( a couple weeks into the prom and prom night), a clear focused struggle (he just wants to wear a dress to the prom – he isn’t trying to change the world or be a billionaire, or answer the world’s problems), realistic relationships (probably cuz its based on a true story), and a satisfying ending: everyone dances at the dance party. Simple, focused, sweet. And by being true to himself in this one thing, Jamie has touched and impacted many hearts.

We often forget that sometimes, it just takes one simple small stone to dislodge, and then the avalanche will roll.

If you like movie musicals, another one I recommend is In the Heights by Lin Manuel Miranda.

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Women in Theatre – Podcast Episode 7

About the same time I established the Bandung Philharmonic in 2016, I heard exciting news of a West Side Story production in Jakarta by a community theatre: Jakarta Performing Arts Community. I’m a thespian (musical nerd), and Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story has always been a favorite. So imagine my excitement.

To give some context, please know that theatre in Indonesia is still barely a scene. Cut that landscape by half when you’re talking about musical theatre. Now West Side Story is a HUGE production. The Jets, the Sharks, the choreography, the love and the deaths…it’s insane. When I watched the production at the Graha Bakti Budaya theatre, I was honestly impressed!

Fonnyta Amran during the Last 5 Years rehearsal

I remembered thinking who was the director that dared put on such a difficult show in Indonesia? When they called her on stage, it was this tiny figure of a lady, a head shorter than everyone else. Her name was Fonnyta Amran. And this was her first production as a director.

Whoa. I need to keep tabs on this person, I thought. I’d love to work together with them one day and support from the music side, or through other ways. Fast forward to 2021, and I interviewed Fonnyta for this very podcast episode on women in theatre. Not only that, we’re working together on The Last 5 Years, an off-Broadway musical by Jason Robert Brown.

In this podcast, you will hear someone speaking about their true love. And you will want to see this current show we’re working together on. Support women in theatre and buy your tickets now on Kiostix!