West Side Story (Jerome Robbins et al., 1961)
[originally posted 16May2000]
(If you don’t, somehow, know the plot of either West Side Story or Romeo and Juliet, skip this review.)
As the glory days of the musical were winding down, and musicals were more adapted from Broadway than written specifically for the screen, it seems that a cadre of musical directors got together and set down some ground rules for making musicals in America in the 1960s. The first rule was that singing voice was less important than stage presence. And while West Side Story isn’t quite as bad about it as, say, the shrieking harridans who make up the thoroughly awful off-key chorus of My Fair Lady, there’s still a good deal of off-key, annoying, baleful whining running through Robbins’ adaptation of his own stage play. At least the lead parts were cast with people who could sing (Natalie Wood and Richard Beymer, both of whom can stay on key, unlike much of the supporting cast).
Now that my complaints about on-key singing are out of the way, it’s actually not a bad script. It’s not Romeo and Juliet (hey guys, aren’t both of the lovers supposed to die in the end?), and leaves out some of the finest plot twists and most endearing characters from that play. Needed more time for big dance numbers, I guess. I would have preferred the nurse. **