Musical Monday: West Side Story
What happens when a bunch of gay men reimagine Romeo and Juliet with skinny ties and outrageous accents? Why, they toss out the iambic pentameter and add in a lot of crotch bulges! Yes, kids, it’s West Side Story! Strap yourselves in!
We’ve got a TON of YouTube clips, so let’s get started with one of the most famous musical openings of all time (with the possible exception of Julie Andrews spinning her ass off on that mountaintop):
And right off the bat, we’re gonna step right in it. As brilliant as Jerome Robbins’ choreography is in this movie, there are times when placing it in a real-world setting illustrates how much of a fantasy it is. We never could fully buy these supposed tough guys doing ballet steps through the real streets of New York. Granted, once you’re able to make that shift, the movie works, but modern audiences have their work cut out for them in the suspension of disbelief area. Having never seen it on the stage, we suspect it works just fine in that setting. Still, it’s fabulous and beautifully establishes the characters, the setting, and the conflict.
Anyway, Officer Krupke and Lt. Schrank show up and give these punks the what-for, breaking up the male-on-male dancing, sending the Sharks on their way and appealing to the Jets to “make nice with the PRs.”
We never could stand Russ Tamblyn.
Did we mention that this was Shakespeare reimagined by a bunch of gay men?
Later at the neighborhood bridal shop, we meet Maria, who is virginal and rolls all her r’s a little too hard. She is thrilled with the dress Anita made for the dance that night. Anita doesn’t tell her that she just took in an old communion dress that some fat girl never picked up from the shop.
TO DIE, CHITLINS. Favorite scene in the whole movie. Wouldn’t life be fabulous beyond words if we all agreed to settle conflicts by yelling
at each other and then dancing the SHIT outta the room? Only in the fantasy world of musicals, where the black kids at the dance all line up against the wall in their dour clothes while the white kids demonstrate their superior dancing skills and flashy threads.
Tell you what, if we ever did find ourselves in a Mambo-off, we want Rita Moreno on our side.
And Velma (the blonde) is a bitch.
Tony and Maria, surfing on a wave of hormonal bliss that apparently washed away any vestiges of common sense, kiss in the middle of a war zone and unsurprisingly, Bernardo, being her brother and all, has a bit of a problem with that. Maria gets sent home and Riff and Bernardo agree to have a war council later that night.
While Tony wanders the pink skies of Hell’s Kitchen, the Sharks and their girls have a little discussion about goals and expectations:
Sure, the lyrics are a little racist, but what a spectacular scene. Rita is ON FIRE and George Chakiris just owns the screen. Whenever these two dance, it’s tough to even notice anyone else. One of those scenes that illustrates what musicals do well so perfectly that it’s become iconic; seared into the public’s imagination and memory. Even people who have barely – or never – seen the movie, have seen this scene. Perfection.
Later, Tony catches up with Maria on the fire escape outside her bedroom in order to get a chance to look up her nightgown. Because her invisible parents are sleeping, they decide to sing really loudly at each other instead of just necking. Damn kids and their hormones.
Tony thinks clean thoughts until he’s composed enough to go to the war council in his tight pants. He talks the rival gangs into picking the best fighter from each side to slug it out, then smugly acts like he’s frikkin’ Gandhi or something.
Why do the Jets all dress like real estate agents?
The next day, Maria acts like a jackass.
It’s a cute song, but we hate this scene. Just a little too syrupy sweet.
And speaking of syrupy sweet.
Because neither of them are very bright, Tony comes to the dress shop to see Maria. Anita is not pleased and flashes her fiery Puerto Rican eyes at him. His mayonnaise whiteness is no match.
Anyway, as soon as they take their imaginary vows, Maria rips off the veil and starts nagging him to break up the rumble that night. He’s all “Sure honey! That’s a GREAT idea!” and we want to shake them both very roughly for several minutes.
Meanwhile, the Jets play it cool and a lightbulb goes off over the head of a little boy named Michael Jackson, who would be inspired to grow up, become white, and rip this scene off countless times.
Their little lesbian friend shows up and tells them that Chino is looking for Tony and he’s got a gun. She demonstrates using the secret gang hand signal for “gun.”
Anita shows up and she is PISSED.
But because this is a musical, all Maria has to do is lip synch to Marni Nixon and Anita is convinced that sleeping with the guy who killed her brother is such a good idea that she’s gonna help her out by heading down to see the Jets to give Tony a message. Yeah! That’s a GREAT idea!
What the hell is WRONG with these kids? Where’s Jerry Springer when you need him?
The Jets and the Sharks learn to work together by disposing of the body right under the watchful eyes of the police. Maria takes the gun home and shoots Anita in the face for being such a shitty friend. The End.
Man, that was depressing. Next week, Think Pink!