Holiday Gift Guide | West Side Story DVD Review
West Side Story, a 1950s setting of the classic love story Romeo and Juliet, is now available for the first time ever on Blu-ray in commemoration of its 50th anniversary. West Side Story won a total of 10 Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Original Score. The 50th Anniversary edition comes in a 3-disc set or a box set which contains the 3 discs as well as a tribute CD, collectible postcards, and a hardcover book with rare photos related to this iconic film and a foreword written by Walter Mirisch (producer). West Side Story: 50th Anniversary Edition released on Blu-ray on November 15, 2011.
I have always loved musical theatre, and West Side Story is one of the handful of musicals that I have had the pleasure of seeing live on stage. After seeing it in Las Vegas when I was in my late teens, I fell in love with it and soon after purchased it on VHS so I could watch it any time I liked. I no longer have a VHS player, and hadn’t watched the film in years. I was ecstatic over its release onto Blu-ray and couldn’t wait to sit down and watch it again.
Even though it’s been a very long time since I’ve seen it, West Side Story is still just as powerful and touching as it was the first time I saw it. Maria (Natalie Wood) and Tony (Richard Beymer) fall in love, despite their very different upbringing and the wishes of their family and friends. Maria’s older brother, Bernardo (George Chakiris), is the leader of the Sharks, a Puerto Rican gang. Tony is a former member of the American gang, the Jets. Riff (Russ Tamblyn) stirs up some trouble with Bernardo and tries to get Tony to participate in a rumble. But after meeting Maria at a high school dance, Tony wants to make peace between the two gangs. His efforts don’t pay off, however, and he is powerless to stop the sequence of events that happen next.
Even though West Side Story takes place in the 1950s and is based on a play written in the 1500s, its themes of prejudice, passionate love, and even violence is still applicable to our modern day.
There are a few things that have always stood out to me, making West Side Story more memorable than any other musical that I have ever seen. For starters, the opening sequence where the audience becomes acquainted with the Jets. There is no speaking, only simultaneous snapping and graceful but intense dance sequences by the Jets. The musical score, written by Leonard Bernstein, and the choreography make a lasting impression and set the scene as well as what’s to come. It’s intense and masculine, even though the dancers’ movements have a ballet quality to them. The songs are emotional and beautiful; some of my favorites are Tonight, Tonight and There’s a Place for Us. It’s nearly impossible to make it through this film without shedding tears.
My Favorite Bonus Features:
Pow! The Dances of West Side Story This feature is on the Blu-ray disc, and it is a deeper look into the dance sequences of the film. Not only does it feature members of the original cast, but it also has contemporary choreographers such as Zach Woodlee (Glee and The Glee Project Choreographer) and Mikhail Baryshnikov (ballet dancer) discussing the significance of this film’s choreography.
A Place for Us: West Side Story’s Legacy This feature contains commentary from Russ Tamblyn (Riff), Rita Mareno (Anita) and others as they look back on the film they made 50 years ago.
Music Machine If you only want to watch the song/dance sequences, this is the feature for you! You can play all, or select by song.
Song Specific Commentary by Lyricist Stephen Sondheim Stephen Sondheim explains how he chose the lyrics for each of the songs and why they are important to the overall story.
5 Things I Learned From Watching All of the Bonus Features
- West Side Story was originally going to be written about Jews vs. Catholics before it was changed to a Puerto Rican gang vs. a caucasian gang.
- 2,000 dancers auditioned for roles in West Side Story.
- Natalie Wood (Maria) and Richard Beymer (Tony) didn’t get along offstage.
- The singing voices were not performed by the actors and actresses who acted and danced the roles.
The Red Carpet Premiere for the 50th Anniversary of West Side Story
*I did not receive any financial compensation for this review, though I did review a sample of the product for evaluation purposes. The opinions are based only on my experiences with the product.*