A Short Review of The West Side Story
One of the things that first struck me about the play was that the characters believed they lived a good life. I saw the exact opposite. The good life is shown through success, success through a career, education, goals, and love, or at least we are brought up thinking so. The gangs only had one another and without the support of that gang, these boys/characters would not exist as individual human beings. The Jets did not want to have jobs, and they mocked the ex-gang member, Tony, for leaving the gang to make a future for himself. Life outside the gang was not an option for the Jets. None of the boys had any future plans or felt the need for anything else in their lives. Tony did not live the good life, but he did have dreams. He knew there was a better life for him out there, and parting from the gang allowed him to search for that life. Maybe it was only me, but Tony seemed to be the happiest person there, even before he met Maria.
The West Side Story did not demonstrate a good society, either. The people outside the gang did not help to lead these kids in the right direction. The gangs learned to be negative towards one another, because people of higher authority did the same, such as the cops. I was shocked when the cop made racist comments towards the Sharks, I would think that a black man in that time period would be more aware of racial tensions and slurs. In the song “Officer Krupke” the Jets sing of several reasons to why society believes they are bad kids. Society makes it okay for them to be bad, and the boys just accept those excuses. People in their society were constantly giving them negative remarks and this eventually led them to believe that what people told them was true. The society had the same hatred that the two gangs for each other.
In spite of their lack of opportunities both gangs have a lot of fun at the dance (although it is laced with tension). The fun was portrayed by the vibrant colors of the girl’s dresses and the boys’ shirts, the frenetic music. I really loved the wonderful outfits, and I think that they really do make the play reachable.
I was wondering if West Side Story has ever been done in a setting other than proscenium. It would be quite an adventure, making it an interactive piece. The first time I saw it, it was a school’s production. They were a bit pressed for stage space, so some of the dancing was pushed on to the sides of the front row seats, which was quite entertaining. Also, the window/balcony scenes were changed, although with mixed results. Maria was located above and behind the audience, in a balcony near the spotlight. When she sung it seemed angelic, because she seemed to be surrounded in a heavenly aura, although it was quite uncomfortable to turn in the seats.
As a contrast to the theme of tragedy, giving it traits of a musical is the humor, fun and laughter present in the film. Both gangs have fun at the expense of the police and there are some good, humorous lines: “Top of the morning, Lieutenant!” and: “Can you translate that into Spanish”. A lot of the humor comes from the words of the songs: numbers like “America” and “Officer Krupke” are full of fun but both have bitter underlying messages; “Everything’s free in America. For a small fee in America”, and “Gee officer Krupke we’re very upset, we haven’t had the love every child ought to get” etc. Humor also comes in the Jets treatment of Anybody’s although to a certain extent there is rather a nasty element to the humor: “It’s the only way she’ll ever get any man to touch her”, and “Go walk the streets like your sister”, when they want rid of her.
I believe that all of the songs fit in the play. They are all able to capture the emotions that are expressed during the play. In the moments of the play, when an intense fight is at its peak, the music has a tense violent sound. When the people are so exuberant that they must sing the music is happy and joyful (redundant I know, but I want to emphasize my point). Even when it is a love song, the music has a quality that can only be described as love. No less than 17 numbers are present in the film, many becoming much loved favorites over the years. Much of the score is accompanied by spectacular dancing routines showing the participants to be full of energy I believe that this is what makes a play resist the test of time.
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