You know, after a while you get used to hardened street gangs bopping around New York City battling it out in a turf war by snapping at each other and using dance moves that would make any ballerina jealous. It took me a while, but I can’t say that I’ve seen something like that before. You just start going with the flow and embrace the absurdity of it all.
“West Side Story,” based off the famous stage play about two New York gangs, the Jets and the Sharks, battling it out to see who will reign supreme, while two members of the opposing gangs end up falling in love, is loosely based off William Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet.”
The Jets are filled with punks who are, possibly by their own admission, not all right in the head due to their lousy upbringing. For them, they’ve only been able to find love and acceptance from the street and each other. This is their home and they’re not going to give up without a fight.
The Sharks are originally from Puerto Rico and immigrated to America to start new and better lives than the ones they had back home. They keep facing adversities though from police officers and their own employers, who clearly look down on them. When the Jets push back on them, it seems like all the rage has finally boiled over and they’re unwilling to step aside and be pushed around again.
This leads to a boiling point where both sides have their reasons for doing this, helped by great performances from the leaders of both gangs, Russ Tamblyn for the Jets and George Chakiris for the Sharks. These two put everything on out for the audience to see, letting not burning and searing emotion go unchecked.
Of course, the musical numbers are also memorable in their own right. Every song works in its own right and has stood the test of time by continuing to entertain audiences to this day. I enjoyed the Sharks performing “America” that shows the good and bad of living in American and Puerto Rico, as well as “Jet Song” and the amount of detail it goes into with the life of a street gang, which was great for setting the tone and mood of the movie.
Overall, “West Side Story” plays out like an extravagant and modern take on Shakespeare’s tale, while still having its own identity through its songs and vibrant color scheme, with the dance numbers being just as intoxicating as the songs. This is one of those timeless musicals that even people who don’t care for musicals, like myself, can enjoy. Get ready to have many of the songs stuck in your head for days and to be snapping a lot, because this one is quite catchy.
Final Grade: B+