It’s a Wednesday night and there is nothing too spectacular on the horizon. So why not treat yourself to a Broadway show? When Heath saw that that my favorite musical of all time, West Side Story, was coming to Austin he immediately went to the trusty internet to buy tickets. So when March 30 rolled around, away we went!
I love West Side Story; the dancing, the songs, the plot—a semi-modern spin on William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. (Haven’t heard of him? That’s OK, I hear he’s a one hit wonder.) Choreographer extraordinaire Jerome Robbins is responsible for the phenomenal dance scenes and composer Leonard Bernstein brought the music. Bless poor Heath, who probably didn’t anticipate me belting out “I Love to Be in America” and “I Feel Pretty” for the remainder of our post-play evening. I just can’t help myself. Something about that musical just gets a hold of me.
Despite it being my all time favorite musical of all times to the power of infinity, I had previously only seen community theater productions of the play. Don’t get me wrong, I love community theater, but it can’t compete with the grand scale of Broadway productions. The actors’ voices carried all the way through the theater, out the door, and across the campus, while the grandeur of the sets had my jaw hitting the floor. But, and maybe this is Broadway heresy, I prefer the movie version.
I feel a little like the geek who says they prefer the movie to the book, but there is something about that Hollwood-ized version of the play that I can’t shake. Maybe it’s merely because after watching it 24323648 times, the movie is what I’ve become accustomed to and internalized as “right.” What am I saying? Of course that’s the reason. But it also goes deeper than that. Here are my reasons why Movie > Play.
• Natalie Wood. Yes I know she’s not really Puerto Rican, and I know she doesn’t do her own singing in the movie. And yes, I know it’s not fair to expect anyone to compete with Natalie Wood on any level. I realize all these things. Nevertheless, she captures the perfect blend vivaciousness and naivety in the film that I’ve yet to see matched.
• Song order. When they made West Side Story the movie, they had to some rearranging of the song order to please the audience. In the play, the vulgar and humorous track “Officer Krupke” as well as the peppy and spirited “I Feel Pretty,” both occur after after (spoiler alert) certain characters’ deaths. Perhaps in Broadway logic this is done to keep the audience engaged and prevent them from hurling themselves off the balcony, but I had a hard time getting back into happy cheerful mode after a dramatic fight scene that leaves two lead characters slain. In the movie version when things get sad, they stay sad. And I prefer it that way.
• I love to be in America. In the movie this pro-American hymn is performed as a sort-of duel between the male and female Puerto Ricans. It is superb. The lyrics are funny, the dancing is incredible and the whole scene gets you up on your feet. In the play the song sets itself up to be more of a girl-on-girl cat fight that lacks the same intensity, emotion and humor as the movie version.
Movie or play, I still love the story, wiggle my feet in my chair in time with the choreography, and mouth the words to each song as if I were playing the roles of every character. And there it is. My extremely professional opinion and sought after review of a play that has never before been commented on and never will be hereafter.