I’m a West Side Story Purist, And I Have a Confession to Make

So this weekend we took the kids to see two plays.  Last night our local high school had a production of “Xanadu,” which I saw on Broadway back in 2007.   I’ve said oftentimes on this blog that it’s my top guilty pleasure movie of all time. The play is very different from the movie, but I loved the Broadway show when I saw it. As for the high school production, well, let’s just say it’s lack of financial backing showed. Only one kid was a really GOOD singer (the kid who played Gene Kelly’s role from the movie), the rest were mediocre at best. But the play made the kids laugh, and they enjoyed it, so I guess I shouldn’t judge. After all, it was a high school production.

So today we had tickets to see my all.time.favorite, “West Side Story.” Now I had high expectations for this high school production because it was being done by a high school dedicated to the arts in Charlotte. And there were definitely pluses to the production. Better sets than “Xanadu,” better singers than “Xanadu,” and a nicer theater. HOWEVER, the orchestra accompanying the “WSS” production was simply atrocious. The stringed instruments were not playing nearly the same tune, and it was obvious that the entire orchestra had not practiced nearly as much as they should have. Folks, it was really, REALLY bad. I told Denis that if we could take the “Xanadu” band and mix it with the “WSS” singers, then we’d have a show.

I’ve seen the movie “WSS” hundreds of times. And I do mean that literally. Hundreds – plural. I see every stage production that crosses my path. I can recite each and every line of the movie, and as such, I’m a movie purist when it comes to this one. I know the 1961 Academy Award winning film played loose with the original play. The cursing was mostly removed, a couple songs were adjusted, etc. BUT. The movie is the first version of “WSS” I ever saw, and so to me, everything is held up in comparison to Natalie Wood et al. So I HATE it when stage productions make changes to what I consider to be the greatest musical movie of all time. For instance, “America” should be sung by the Sharks AND their girls. Not just the girls. That drives me nuts.

And while I usually admire an actor’s choices in the role she or he is playing, you don’t muck around with “West Side Story.” Natalie Wood, Richard Beymer, Russ Tamblyn and George Chakiris did it best, and if you can’t step into their shoes, then don’t even try. Because in my mind, those actors made the BEST choices for those characters, and all else pales.

I also feel this way about two other classic movies. “My Fair Lady” is my second favorite movie of all time. And if you aren’t going to play Henry Higgins the way Rex Harrison did, then get off the stage. If you aren’t going to play “Mame” like Rosalind Russell in the non-musical version of my third favorite movie of all time, then get off the stage. Lastly, if you won’t play Anita like Rita Moreno, then…well, you know what I’m going to say.

Despite all this – I will admit this to you. Every time I see “West Side Story,” and I do mean every.single.time. – I cry. And not just one or two tears, but STREAMS of them pouring down my face and dripping off my chin. Even with a terrible orchestra, I still cry. My sister once made fun of me because we went to see a dinner theater production of the play in Fairfax about 20 years ago and I was weeping into the dessert on my table in front of me as the play neared the finale. And the same holds true for today. Today, I cried. I could feel them coming on even before Anita is attacked by the Jets and in retribution tells them Chino shot Maria. I could feel them coming on even before Maria accused Tony of being a murderer. And I could feel them even before Tony’s choice to shiv Bernardo because he killed best friend Riff.

Man, I love that movie. LOVE LOVE LOVE. I’m a sucker for it, and I don’t care who knows it. /buddy the elf

Do you have a movie like that for you, one that you can watch over and over, quote from, and that gets you emotionally each and every time? Surely I’m not the only one out there!!!

My Signature

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7 comments

  1. “Father in Heaven, I’m not a praying man, but if you can hear me, show me the way. I’m at the end of my rope. Show me the way.”

    “To my brother, George, the richest man in town.”

    Every time.

  2. “As God is my witness, I’ll never go hungry again!” Vivian Leigh as Scarlett. I have seen that movie dozens of times also. Love, love, love it!

  3. I’m with your Mom on “It’s a Wonderful Life” and with you with “West Side Story” and, one more — “To Sir With Love”. Love Sidney.

  4. Hey there! No, you’re not the only one who has one movie that she loves enough to see every single time! West Side Story, believe it or not, is that one for me, too. Moreover, I never get tired of seeing this great film over and over again. Oh, there are other movies that I’ve liked well enough to see more than once, but West Side Story tops the charts for me in that respect.

  5. Thank you, Jaynee!

    I’m sure that both you and I have lots of company here. Often enough, when I’ve gone to see the film West Side Story on a great big, wide screen, in a real movie theatre, with the lights turned down low, I’ve seen at least one or two familiar faces, if one gets the drift.

  6. I’m also a movie purist, Jaynee.

    There’s been talk about a re-make of the film “West Side Story”, by Steve Spielberg and FOX 20th Century. West Side Story, imho, is one film that should be left alone, and not remade, because it is what it is, so are the actors/actresses who played the various characters in it, and so is everything else, including the brilliant Bernstein musical score. The people who said that there would never be another movie like West Side Story were 100% right–they were definitely onto something.

    Here’s hoping and praying that a remake of the film West Side Story doesn’t come to pass, because if it does, it’ll spell disaster; Remaking this great classic film would just cut the heart and soul right out of it, imho.

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