Steven Spielberg's West Side Story is due to hit screens in New Zealand 26th December 2021. I know many fans of the show and the original
1961 award-winning film are anxiously waiting to see what Spielberg has done with this iconic piece of musical theatre.
The good news is the original feel of 1950s New York is still there, but refreshed, vibrant and with new energy. This new production is based more on the stage show with its general order of the songs, rather than the 1961 film, while also changing the settings for several of the numbers. It has a great cast, with Rita Moreno, who played Anita in the original film, giving a great performance in the cameo role of Valentina, the owner of the corner store. Be prepared for more Spanish dialogue this time, which gives a more realistic and respectful quality to the scenes where it is used. There are no subtitles, but you are easily able to interpret the intent.
Justin Peck’s choreography managed to avoid replicating Jerome Robin’s, while retaining the character and energy to drive the story. America was the highlight number for me, dance-wise. Of course, like anything you have become familiar with, there are moments where you prefer the original. Robins’ choreography has become synonymous with West Side Story for many dancers, so some imagery after repeated viewing, is just difficult to get out of your mind. However, that does not diminish the new choreography, it is energetic and character driven.
If you’re a diehard fan of the original film, don’t watch it one more time before going to see this new production. Just go along and view this one for what it is. Overall, this new version of West Side Story is satisfying, gritty and relevant to today.
Reviewed by Brian Jones
Photo: Brian Jones with Candy Lane at the preview in Auckland.