Tonight I watched the new West Side Story in theaters, and I have to say — I’m a fan. I love it. I’ve seen the original at least a dozen times (I used to be obsessed with it), know the score by heart, and was fully poised to be disappointed. That..didn’t happen.
West Side Story is a wholly faithful remake; all the glorious original music is there, along with a brief new song and more dialogue that adds to characterization. We get a much clearer sense of the Jets’ challenging background of poverty and familial chaos, for instance. There are numerous shot-for-shot callbacks, and although the order of songs is slightly different, this sometimes adds to the story. Tony, for instance, sings “Cool” to Riff in the hopes of getting the rumble called off, and it doubles as a struggle over a revolver that Riff wants to bring with him to the fight; in the original, “Cool” was sung by Ice to keep the Jets calm in the chaos after the rumble. The “West Side” feels more like a place than a set, and there’s even a reference made to Robert Moses’ war on the city’s existing neighborhoods to make room for grandiose building projects and interstates. I somewhat missed Russ Tamblyn and Natalie Wood, but their successors won me over by the end. Probably my favorite adjustment to the singing was that “America” is a moving shot, taking place on the city streets — and not just because it involved wide shots of attractive women doing the whirling-skirt thing! For fans of the original, there’s an added bonus: the original movie’s “Anita” returns as an advisor to Tony, Maria, and the kids — this time as “Valentina”, an original character who replaces the kindly Doc. This is definitely one I’ll buy on DVD or Blu-Ray when it comes out — and that’s something I never do anymore.